In Petter Northug’s absence, Marcus Hellner (SWE) took over the mantle as the dominant World Cup male, following up an impressive victory in Saturday’s 15km freestyle by leading the Swedish relay team to the top of the podium.
Hellner outsprinted Russia’s Alexander Legkov after the two teams broke away on the third leg.
Daniel Rickardsson (SWE) and young Petr Sedov (RUS) broke away from Norway’s Chris Andre Jespersen and Switzerland’s Remo Fischer during the first skate leg, giving the anchors a 16 second lead that they would extend to 48 by the end.
Norway took the final podium spot, unable to overcome the absence of Northug in the 4th spot.
Switzerland posted an impressive result, led by Dario Cologna, who closed the 30-second deficit he inherited on the second leg.
A group of four broke off the front on the scramble leg. Jauhojärvi (FIN), Sergey Cherepanov (KAZ), Eldar Roenning (NOR) and Emil Joennson (SWE) of Sweden II opened a gap of eight seconds on the field. But with the exception of Norway, the teams quickly dropped.
The US men had three quarters of a great relay, entering the anchor leg in a virtual tie for 5th.
But Chris Cook, clearly not internationally race ready, plummeted back through the field , losing almost three minutes to Hellner over the last 10k, and dropping the US to a final position of 17th.
The story of the day for the US, however, was continued strong performances from the rest of the athletes.
Andy Newell bounced back from Saturday’s 15 k with what had to be one of his best World Cup distance performances. Newell tagged Kris Freeman just 15.4 seconds off the pace in the main chase group.
“I was able to have a really good start, and was able to relax pretty well,” said Newell following the race. “Because of that I was able to ski with the pack the entire 10 k, and then bring it into the stadium close enough that Bird [Freeman] was able to get in a good pack of skiers and link up with the lead pack.”
Freeman continued his excellent start to the season, posting the 3rd fastest time on the second leg, bringing the US in 5th, just seconds out of the podium.
The US chose to mix up the running order, switching Newell and Freeman. In the past, Freeman has generally scrambled, but according to Newell, the move worked out well.
“The way we chose to run it today was a really smart idea — it put us in a really good position,” Newell said.
He also pointed out that his experience bumping elbows in sprints paid dividends in the chaos of a relay scramble.
The race moved to the skate technique, and Noah Hoffman took over for the US. Hoffman had a fine 2011 World Cup debut in the 15km, just missing out on the points. He stayed in high gear for the relay, holding position, despite losing time on the leaders.
Hoffman ranked 16th for his leg, but was just 48.9 seconds off the pace set by Norwegian biathlon legend Ole Einar Bjorndalen.
“We were stoked to see that if we all put together good 10 k’s…we can be in medal contention going into the third and fourth legs,” concluded Newell.
There were few expectations for the US team, especially with Cook not firing on all cylinders. But for this was not the case for the Canadians.
Running the same four that was a medal hopeful in Vancouver, the Canadian men struggled for the second consecutive day, placing 18th in the 23-team field.
With George Grey dropping over a minute on the first leg, and tagging Devon Kersahw in dead last, the Canucks were never in the running.
Kershaw managed the 9th fastest split on the second leg, but dropped another minute to the leaders, before giving Ivan Babikov his turn. Babikov fared no better, losing even more ground, and Alex Harvey, despite making up over two minutes on the US’s Cook, couldn’t move up.
Cook just held off a hard-charging Harvey by 3.9 seconds.
Newell pointed out that Cook is much stronger in a 10k classic, and that “having to skate that anchor leg was probably pretty tough for him… it’s probably not a good indication of the shape he’s in.”
The World Cup picks up on Friday with a mini-tour in Kuusamo, Finland.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.
November 21, 2010 at 4:16 pm
I wondered when I saw the lineup why Cook was skiing the anchor leg. He’s well known, as Newell mentioned, for being a much stronger classic skier. I know Freeman is also stronger in classic, but he’s proven over the past two weeks that he’s very competitive in skating as well. Why not play to everyone’s strengths and have Freeman close it out as by far the best athlete over 10km?
November 21, 2010 at 5:46 pm
November 21, 2010 at 5:59 pm
Apparently Vittoz dropped out.
November 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm
My guess is that the coaches knew, especially after the 15k, that Cook is not in good form right now. He arrived in Europe just a few days ago, and these are his first races of the season.
The chances of him having his best race, which he would need to do to stick with top teams, were pretty low. By putting him last, it gave the other skiers a chance to go head to head with the best.
The strategy clearly paid off and all of a sudden the US has the three-quarters of a legit relay team…
November 21, 2010 at 6:46 pm
Great stuff from Hoffman!
November 21, 2010 at 10:35 pm
the coverage was incredibly difficult to follow with them saying USA was in 4th until the finishing stretch. It made it very exciting though. Bjorndalen fastest skater maybe he deserves a spot in Olso.
Put the Luke to the jager
November 21, 2010 at 11:40 pm
November 22, 2010 at 6:15 am
Hey, you wanted to know in another thread what people think of the black US uniforms? Well when you have the two Eurosport TV announcers David Goldstrum and Mike Dixon constantly raving about Chris Cook battling it out with Norway’s Sjur Roethe for the bronze while covering almost 2/3rds of the last 10k leg (Ha!? Like We wish!) when all along it was actually Curdin Perl of Switzerland, then you know our “Uniis” are wack! Go download the race and you’ll see for yourself. I kept yelling at the TV… “No that’s not Cook! Can’t you tell? What’s wrong with these guys?”.
November 22, 2010 at 8:58 am
Maybe the US should have recruited Tim Burke for the relay.
November 22, 2010 at 5:13 pm
I just saw an interview with Bjørndalen, and he said that he would strongly consider dropping out of the biathlon sprint at WC if he could race for Norway on home soil.
November 22, 2010 at 6:31 pm
Shreddir.. that happens all the time w/the eurosport announcers.. Has nothing to do with the uniforms.
November 23, 2010 at 3:21 am
skipow.. really? Please name which races last season the two of them kept calling the same skier somebody else’s name for 20 minutes straight so I can see for myself. I have every Eurosport race broadcast in my collection.
November 23, 2010 at 7:17 am
wow. I can’t compete with that.
Can we give the uniforms a break though? Do we care that much what color these guys are?
Although, if I watched every single Eurosport race broadcast last year I would also most likely want Kris Freeman to be wearing my favorite color lycra.