The 22 year old Hellner, like women's victor Charlotte Kalla, won his first ever World Cup on the trails of his hometown of Gaellivare, Sweden, edging Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer by 1.4 seconds. Norweigan Petter Northug claimed the final podium spot, +6.9.
“I feel great now. It was a tough race and at the end it felt like going in a tunnel with the audience and everything. When I crossed the finish line everything just collapsed,” said the victorious Swede. Hellner battled with Cottrer for most of the race – with the Italian holding a two-second advantage at 6.7km, extending it to 4.5 seconds at 12.3km. Cottrer, starting behind Hellner, had the advantage of getting splits throughout the race. But Hellner, charging hard at the finish, was able to open up enough of a lead.
Northug moved up consistently throughout the race, from 9th at 2.3km to 7th at 6.7, before settling into third by 12.3km. The Norweigan has an inconsistent season last year, providing some highlight reel moments anchoring the Norweigan relay team, but also suffered through some tough individual performances.
“I’m extremely satisfied with my race but also happy for Marcus,” said Northug. I can imagine how gratifying it is to win in his hometown. As I’m normally not so strong at the start of the season, this third place is great for me.”
Kris Freeman, the lone American starter, kicked off his World Cup season with a solid 20th place finish. only 45.8 seconds off the pace, Freeman was less than 20 seconds out of the top ten. Said US World Cup coach Justin Wadsworth, “Being 45 secs back is a strong start for Kris. He skied a smart and tough race.”
Freeman ranked 77th at 2.3km and 40th at 6.7km, but continued to move up over the second half of the race. Head Coach Pete Vordenburg added, “This was a really good effort that shows we are on track for more good races coming up soon.”
The top American distance skier was caught early by eventual winner Hellner, but hung tough and skied with him for most of the race, eventually losing contact with a kilometer to go.
The US wax crew did an admirable job, providing Kris with excellent skis. Said Wadsworth, “Kris had great skis – he told us they were faster then Hellner's and Kris was pretty excited about them. It was a new pair from this year, so that's a good thing. Our wax staff is all here except for Oleg Ragilo, so it seemed like everyone is working well.”
Canadian Devon Kershaw, a threat to score World Cup points in both distance and sprinting, finished 28th. â€œIt was definitely an average day out there, but was so amazing to be back racing on the World Cup and you can just feel the excitement surrounding the event,â€ said Kershaw, the leader of the Canadian men’s World Cup Ski Team who had little expectations heading into the race which helped him stay calm. â€œI made a few small mistakes tactically out there and you just can’t do that if you expect to be up with the top. That said, to be in the points
Kershaw started fast, ranking 12th at 2.3km before fading back to 24th at the halfway mark. “I have tried to keep relaxed, and as I grow older and more experienced, I’ve slowly learned that all you can do is go out there and push your body to its limits, and the results will be what they be. I think we’ve been making some good headway,” continued the defacto leader of the Canadian men's team.
Stefan Kuhn was the only other Canadian to race, finishing 83rd in the 87-man field.
As expected, the field was extremely tight. When asked if Freeman could be a consistent top-10 threat, Wadsworth “It's tough for sure to get in the top ten, but it's also very doable for Kris this year. If Kris had been able to hang on (to Hellner) for 1 more K he would have been around 12th, so it's close right now.” Vordenberg added that while it is tough to crack the top 10, that is not the US Ski Team's goal. “Our sites are on the podium,” he clarified.
The US is planning to start the 4x10km relay tomorrow with a running order of Andy Newell, Chris Cook, Freeman, and Torin Koos. Koos is battling illness, so a final decision on the start will be made tomorrow morning. “The goal is to get in a good effort for Newell and Cook, Vordenberg told FasterSkier. “The US relay team will come together, but it will have to come together piece by piece. That might be tough to take as a spectator, but it is the way to build the team.”
Defending World Cup champion Lukas Bauer (CZE) finished 9th.
Alexander Legkov, who skied well last weekend in Muonio started the race gunning for the victory. He was first by 5 seconds at 2.3km and 3rd at 6.7km, before slipping to 22nd.
The depth of the field becomes evident when you see the big names finishing outside the top-30.
Eight different nations were represented in the top 11.
Northiug on his way to 3rd place. (Photo Credit: Fischer Skis)
www.UniversalSports.com will provide same-day coverage from Gaellivare starting with the women at 11:50 a.m. ET. Universal Sports broadcasts into 30 million cable households, as well as providing free access to full race coverage online with commentary from Steve Schlanger and noted cross country expert Peter Graves.