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Norway 2 for 2 in WC Relay, Sweden Burns Russia for Second

GALLIVARE, Sweden — Petter Northug (NOR) looked a little glum as he crossed the line at the end of the 4×7.5km men’s World Cup rela on the second day of racing in Sweden. A strong effort by third-leg skier Sjur Roethe and a big push of his own in the first 5k left Northug to cruise into the finish with a distinct lack of dramatics. Halfheartedly waving a small paper Swedish flag, Northug gave Team Norway a sweep of the first World CUp relays of the season and victories in all four races this weekend.

The drama was higher several hundred meters behind as Marcus Hellner, anchoring the hometown team held off an early sprint by Russian Ilia Chernousov to set up a drag race in the final 100 meters.

Hellner, who made up 17 seconds early in the leg to bring the Swedes back into medal contention, showed the speed that makes him the defending World Champion in the freestyle sprint, bested Chernousov to give Sweden  second silver on the day.

“It’s really important for us to be in the top three, ” Chernousov said after the race.  “I didn’t feel fresh. I tried to do my best but Marcus was stronger today. Congratulations to Sweden.”

Switzerland was 4th, Canada 5th and Germany 6th in the pack of five teams that enter the final half-k in a tight group.

Hellner controlled the pace after his hard charge to close the gap but Chernousov slipped by on the inside of one of the many tight Gallivare carners, as the finish approached.

The move split the pack, with only Hellner able to respond. The Swede quicly regained the lead and held the pole position entering the finish straight.

Alex Harvey, closing for Canada, didn’t have the gas to get by Roman Furger of Switzerland, settling for 5th despite setting the third-fastest anchor time on the day.

Furger skied an impressive race, catching a ride with Hellner to get the Swiss back up into podium contention. Like his Swedish counterpart, Furger  started his leg nearly 20 seconds out of the podium. Harvey made it a group of a three on the hunt, tracking down Germany and Russia to setup the exciting finish.

Canada, a medal hopeful in the relay at World Championships, has been looking for a fourth man since the retirement of George Gray. Lenny Valjas filled that role, scrambling for the Canucks and handing off to teammate Devon Kershaw 17.7 seconds off the pace.

Valjas, who stepped on to the World Cup stage as a sprinter, showed some distance chops at World Cup Finals last season, was racing with a broken finger.

The United States placed 15th in the 23-team field, led by Andy Newell’s strong scramble leg. Newell tagged off to Noah Hoffman in 8th, 13.3 seconds down. Hoffman struggled i nthe second classic leg, losing 52 seconds to the leaders and dropping the team to 16th.

Tad Elliott skied better, but continued to lose ground, leaving Kris Freeman well off the pace.

Freeman did post the 7th fastest anchor leg time wile closing out the race for the US.

The event was the first time the new shortened men’s relay format was run, with the distance dropping from 10k to 7.5k per leg.

Results

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