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Len Valjas adds to Canada's cross country success

t placed Eirik Brandsdal (C) of Norway, Second placed Teodor Peterson (L) of Sweden and third placed Len Valjas of Canada pose on the podium after winning the Men's 1 km Classic Sprint Final at the FIS Cross-Country World Cup in Stockholm March 14, 2012. REUTERS/Claudio Bresciani

Claudio Bresciani/Reuters

Canada's men's cross-country ski team will head home from the World Cup circuit a little heavier than it arrived, thanks to a record medal haul.

Len Valjas of Toronto raced to a bronze medal in the men's 15-kilometre classic mass start race at the World Cup finals Saturday, amid the most successful season in the history of the men's program.

The 22-year-old — the team's youngest member — crossed just 1.3 seconds behind winner Dario Cologna of Switzerland.

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"I'm not sure how I'm doing all this," Valjas said. "We had a great training camp in Italy last month and I've just been building from that. I just can't ask for anything more right now."

The six-foot-six Valjas won a silver medal last week, and then followed it up with a bronze on Wednesday. Saturday's podium performance made it 13 for Canada on this World Cup season.

"Now this is truly amazing," said Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth. "I am a bit blow away. It is unreal."

With the world's top skiers battling for bonus points on the course that climbs the punishing Mordarbacken hill, Valjas stuck to his gameplan and picked off his competitors as they tired down the home stretch.

"I felt so good on the final gradual climb," said Valjas, who was sixth entering the final stretch. "I just stuck to my pace and didn't waste energy going for the bonuses.

"Coming into the finish people started dying. I just tried to pick as many off as I could. When I got to fifth and fourth, it was just an unreal feeling."

The bronze comes a day after Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw made Canadian cross-country ski history. Harvey won Friday's men's classic prologue while Kershaw claimed bronze — the first time two Canadians had shared the podium in a cross-country World Cup race.

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Kershaw, from Sudbury, Ont., was fifth on Saturday, and is poised to finish second in overall World Cup standings following Sunday's final race.

Harvey, from St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., was 18th.

Cologna, already the overall World Cup winner, finished the third of four stages in 43 minutes 14.9 seconds.

In a close-run finish, he beat Norwegian Eldar Roenning into second place, 0.4 back.

The concluding 35-kilometre race is on Sunday.

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