Eirik Brandsdal (NOR) entered the day planning on being aggressive, and the strategy paid off.
Brandsdal skied away from the field in the final of the Drammen classic sprint, winning for the second time this season.
Brandsdal may not have been the favorite in this race, but his win certainly was no surprise.
The same cannot be said of second-place finisher Lenny Valjas of Canada.
The towering Canadian used a strong double pole and impressive coolness under pressure to reach the podium for the first time in his relatively short World Cup career.
With just 23 individual World Cup starts under his belt, even Valjas was caught off guard by the success.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet, but it does feel pretty good,” Valjas told Cross-Country Canada after the race. “I think I may be a little in shock.”
Today marked just the second time that the 24-year-old has reached the finals in a World Cup sprint. He finished 5th in Kuusamo, Finland in November.
“I never would have thought I’d win a medal this early in my career, but to have the first medal come in Norway is really special. This country has been really good to me over the last couple of years,” said Valjas. “I just wanted to get to the front and attack on the hills. I had great skis and was able to do that. I felt good all day.”
Valjas was not joking about his skis. At one point during the final, he tucked away from the field, looking back, seemingly in surprise as he glided off the front.
Brandsdal quickly closed back up, but Valjas did not falter. By the halfway mark, the race for the medals had split into two groups. Valjas, Brandsadal and Paal Golberg (NOR) gapped the group, leaving Andy Newell (USA), Emil Joensson (SWE) and Alexander Panzhinskiy (RUS) fighting for fourth.
Valjas skied toward the front through the way, looking confident and unafraid to set the pace. He won both his first two heats, besting Joensson in the quarters, and skiing away with Newell in the semis.
At the end, it was Brandsdal who had more in the tank on the final hill, throwing down a tempo that Valjas could not match.
But the Canadian stayed clear of a hard-charging Golberg to take the second spot.
Golberg bounced back from a race-ending crash last weekend in Lahti to earn his second podium of the season. The 21-year-old has established himself as one of the next generation of Norwegian sprinters.
Newell faltered in the final, running out of gas and missing his shot at the podium.
But the American sprinter reached the finals for just the first time this year, looking strong in both his earlier heats.
Complete North American report to follow
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.