March 03, 2017 (Lahti, Finland) – The Norwegian men claimed their 9th consecutive world championship 4x10km relay on Friday winning a see-saw battle with Russia as Sweden took home the bronze.
Russia and Norway took and early lead in the Classic stages as the race for bronze brewed behind. Norway’s Martin Johnsrud Sundby broke things wide open in the first skating leg gapping Alexey Chervotkin and tagging their anchor-leg skier Finn Haagen Krogh with a 17.7-second margin and it was game over.
Russian powerhouse Sergey Ustuigov came close to hunting down Krogh but ultimately fell short, crossing the line at only 4.6 seconds behind his Norwegian rival.
Far behind a separate battle was raging for the bronze medal between Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson, Switzerland’s Perl Cudin, Finland’s Matti Heikkinen, and Germany’s Lucas Boegl. Early in the last leg, the four-man group slowed considerably, sometimes almost coming to a standstill. With information coming from their coaches, they knew that Norway and Russia were out of reach, and that the closest chasers were far behind. Nobody in the group wanted to lead, and the pace remained pedestrian until the last 2.5km loop.
The battle for the bronze heated up near the end as Finland’s Matti Heikkinen made a bid for glory but a fateful pole plant on the final corner saw him crash as Sweden’s Calle Halfvarsson took the lead and the final podium spot for the bronze.
“I knew that Matti will go on the last uphill and it was good game for me to go after him,” Halfvorsson said at the post-race press conference. Switzerland took 4th with Perl Cudin doing the honours with Heikkinen recovering to cross the line in 5th.
Team USA comprised of Kyle Bratrud, Erik Bjornsen, Tad Elliot, and Simi Hamilton, skied a strong race to finish 10th. 24-year-old Bratrud is competing in his second world championships, but this was his first scramble leg in the relay, having skied the third leg two years ago in Falun, Sweden. “I was definitely more nervous for this one because I was starting,” Bratrud said after the race.
Bratrud hung tough but was eventually dropped when the pace picked up in the second half of his leg, he handed off to Bjornsen in 11th, 1:28.2 behind the leaders. Bjornsen skied alone for his leg, maintaining 11th position and handing off to Elliot 2:41.6 behind the leaders. After the race, Bjornsen commented, “It’s not the position you necessarily want to be in, but took it for what it was worth and tried to charge up to the group in front of me.”
Elliot skied the 8th fastest time of third-leg skiers, handing off to Hamilton in 11th, 4:25.0 behind off the pace. Hamilton skied a very strong anchor leg, posting the 6th fastest time, and catching the Czech Republic to finish 10th. “By the time [Elliot] tagged off to me, I think I was 10 or 15 seconds from [the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and Italian teams],” Hamilton said after the race. “They fortunately started pretty conservatively, which was nice for me.” Hamilton reeled in those four teams, but struggled in the last lap.
The Canadian team of Graeme Killick, Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey, and Lenny Valjas finished 12th after being lapped and pulled from the race on the final leg.
After the race, Valjas said, “It just wasn’t our day. We’re all in shape, it’s just none of us were on our A-game today and that’s what it takes to be fighting in this.” In January, the Canadian men’s team placed third in the world cup relay in Ulricehamn, Sweden.
Racing continues tomorrow with the women’s 30km freestyle race.