Norway made it two for two today, winning the men's relay in a mass sprint to the finish, edging host Sweden by .2 seconds in the 4x10km relay in Gaellivare.
Not to be outdone by the Norweigan women, the men's team skied to a victory by an even smaller margin than their female counterparts. Just a few hours after Marthe Kristoffersen outsprinted Finn Rita-Liisa Roponen for a .4 second victory, Petter Northug edged Swede Marcus Hellner for a stunning victory.
Five teams entered the finish straight grouped together, ultimately finishing within 1.4 seconds of each other. Northug, already famous for his relay heroics, was able to outstretch hometown skier and yesterday's victor, Hellner at the line.
Germany finished third, beating out the Czech Republic by the same .2 seconds that gave Norway the win, with Axel Teichmann getting the better of Dusan Kozisek. Russia rounded out the top five, yet another .2 seconds behind Kozisek.
Martin Sundby Johnsrud led the pack at the first transition, tagging to teammate Eldar Roenning. Roenning struggled today, falling back to 10th, giving up 35 seconds to the leading Swedes. Johan Olsson skied a terrific second leg for the hosts, breaking apart the pack.
Tore Ruud Hofstad started the Norweigan comeback, catching the Swedes during the first skate leg. But Germany, Russia, Italy and Finland still held a 17 second lead heading into the final 10km.
Northug, Hellner and Kozisek worked to close the gap, eventually catching the leaders to set up the finish. Christian Zorzi, the famed Italian anchor was unable to reproduce his magic of old, falling off the pace, to bring his team in sixth. Finland, who led at the second and third exchanges also faltered at the end, finishing 7th.
The US started a team of Andy Newell, Chris Cook, Kris Freeman and Torin Koos, but did not finish the race. US coaches reported yesterday that Koos has been sick, so it is possible that the US Team entered the race knowing they would not complete all four legs.
Newell skied the 19th fastest 1st leg out of 23 teams – though he was only 58.8 seconds off the pace. He tagged to teammate Cook who also posted the 19th time of his leg, though he was further off the pace. The goal for the US today was to get Newell and Cook additional World Cup distance experience as the team prepares for future relays and distance events.
Said Head Coach Pete Vordenburg, “We did do what we wanted to do as far as getting Newell and Cook some good racing. They definitely had the kind of workout we wanted them to have going into Kuusamo and I feel pretty confident that we're going to have a good weekend there.”
– Sergei Dolidovich had an impressive first leg for Belarus, entering the transition with the top pack. Belarus eventually dropped to 16th place, 4 minutes back.
– France posted a solid 8th, 23 seconds off the pace.
– The top II team was Norway in 11th.
– Kazazhstan battled for the first half of the race, staying within 12 seconds of the leaders, before slipping back. They still cracked the top-ten, finishing 9th.
The relay will be shown later today on Universal Sports – watch on the Universal Sports cable channel or for free on the internet at www.universalsports.com
Sun. Nov. 23 — Women's 4x5K Relay, Gallivare, Sweden — 12:00 p.m. ET
Sun. Nov. 23 — Men's 4x10K Relay, Gallivare, Sweden — 2:00 p.m. ET