Remo Fischer used a strong attack late in the third leg of the men’s 4x10km relay in La Clusaz, France, to open up a gap on Russian Petr Sedov, and set up the first World Cup relay win for the Swiss men.
Fischer’s move rested on the foundation built by teammate Dario Cologna. The former World Cup overall champion teamed with Alexander Legkov (RUS), the current World Cup leader, to break apart the usual early pack on the second classic leg.
The duo opened an impressive 35-second gap on Lukas Bauer and the third place Czechs, while Norway sat in 4th at the halfway point +46.7.
“It is an amazing day,” said Fischer following the race. “At the moment it is hard to believe.”
Sweden, one of the pre-race favorites, appeared out of contention after Daniel Rickardsson struggled on the second leg, dropping the team 1:20 behind.
Fisher and Sedov grew the lead over the course of the first skate leg before the Swiss attacked during the last 2.5 kilometers.
“My legs were a bit stiff [when Fischer attacked],” Sedov said. “For sure I was at first a bit sad but second place is not bad.”
Fischer came into the final exchange 11 seconds ahead of the Russian and it was all up to Curdin Perl.
Perl skied an excellent race in Saturday’s 30km mass start, placing 7th for one of the top World Cup finishes of his lengthy career.
But he matched up against Maxim Vylegzhanin, who not only won the 30km, he did so by besting none other than Petter Northug.
Perl was up for the task, however, not giving an inch, and slowly widened the gap. Over the last five kilometers, Vylegzhanin looked the stronger skier, but couldn’t gain a second.
With plenty of time to take a Swiss flag from the crowd, Perl cruised down the finish stretch into the arms of his waiting teammates.
Vylegzhanin crossed 30 seconds back for second, while an epic battle raged behind for the final podium spot.
Martin Koukal bombed out for the Czechs, over two minutes of the pace on the fourth leg, bringing the team home in 7th.
That left Norway, Finland and Sweden to fight for third.
Sweden was back in the race thanks to an impressive third leg from Anders Soedergren, who is clearly skiing well after a 6th in Saturday’s 30k.
Soedergrn posted the fastest time on the leg and closed the gap on Norway and Finland to nine seconds.
Hellner took over, chasing Matti Heikkinen (FIN) and Northug, but was unable to make up ground over the first portion of his race, but finally gained contact.
As the skiers entered the final 2.5km lap, the trio of chasers had closed on Vylegzhanin, but would not be able to challenge for second.
Northug showed little inclination to lead, and Heikkinen was left to push the pace. And push he did, attacking hard on several occasions. With just three career appearances in World Cup sprint heats, Heikkinen must have know he had to shake Northug before the homestretch.
But Northug would not go away, and as expected, he accelerated into the stadium blowing by Heikkinen.
Hellner crossed right on the Finn’s heels, but never looked to have enough left to challenge in the sprint.
Canada finished 9th, with Alex Harvey winning a photo finish over Norway II. Devon Kershaw had an excellent day, turning in the third fastest time on the second leg, while Ivan Babikov was 6th continuing to move the team up during the skate.
Young Len Valjas scrambled, digging a hole of 1:18 – not a poor performance for his first ever World Cup distance event.
“Overall the team did a pretty good job today,” Canadian head coach Justin Wadsworth told Own the Podium. “Lenny hasn’t had much World Cup experience but did a great job leading the way and the rest of the guys were solid.”
The United States did not enter a team.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.