The World Cup sprint weekend in Liberec, Czech Republic concluded with a classic team competition.
The Norwegian men’s team of Johan Kjoelstad and Ola Vigen Hattestad were unable to match the margin of victory of their female counterparts, but claimed the top spot nonetheless.
Less than an hour after Marit Bjoergen led the Norwegian women to a crushing 30-second victory, Hattestad used a powerful move on the last climb to pull away from Mats Larsson, the Swedish anchor.
Kjoelstad and Hattestad paired up in this event on the same course two years ago to win World Championship gold.
Kjoelstad has not had much of a presence on the World Cup this season, with only one start prior to this weekend. With the usual highly competitive Norwegian men’s field, Kjoelstad is still looking to punch a ticket to this year’s World Championships.
“Ola did a great job on the last round and took the victory home for us,” Kjoelstad said after the race. “Now I have to be strong next week to qualified for the World Championships in Oslo.”
Hattestad, the former Sprint Cup champion, paired with Anders Gloersen to win the only other World Cup team sprint competition – a skate affair in Dusseldorf, and with a victory in Friday’s skate sprint, he should be in position to defend his double gold from the 2009 World Champs.
The Swedish team of Jesper Modin and Larsson remained in the fight until the last hill, foiling Kjoelstad’s efforts to get away on the second-to-last lap.
Larsson attacked hard on the last leg, and was able to open a gap on the first climb. Few can match Hattestad in the finish stretch of a classic sprint, so Larsson knew he had to get clear early.
“I attacked on the first uphill to get a good gap to the others,” Larsson said. “It worked out but I was very tired on the last uphill and Ola closed the gap.”
Larsson’s attack was pre-meditated. “I had chosen this strategy because I knew that I would not be able to follow Ola on the last uphill,” he explained.
Overall the Swede was pleased with his race, and should have another shot at the Norwegians in Oslo.
Norway had an impressive day as John Kristian Dahl led the second team to a third place finish. Dahl and teammate Eirik Brandsdal bested the French duo of Jean Marc Gaillard and Cyril Miranda.
As is usually the case in men’s team sprint events, the field remained tightly packed for the majority of the race, with skiers merely jockeying to be in position for the final lap. But it was all for naught as Hattestad played his cards perfectly, and would not be beat.
No North American participated in the men’s event. The Americans have all returned to the US, while Len Valjas is currently the only Canadian man in Europe.
The World Cup continues next weekend in Estonia with a 15km classic individual start and a classic sprint.
Valjas is currently schedule to compete for Canada.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.