The Norwegian team of Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen, Sturla Holm Laegreid, Tarjei and Johannes Thingnes Boe, using seven spare rounds, swept to victory a 1:19:26.2 victory this afternoon in the Kontiolahti men’s 4 X 7.5 km relay. JT sealed the win with a stunningly fast anchor leg and near perfect shooting, turning a tie with at the last exchange into a runaway win. Germany with eight spares finished second, 43.9 seconds back. France with nine spares finished third, 1:05.9 back.
JT was more than pleased with the win, especially after an at-times close contest with Germany. “It feels good, especially with the new team setup. It was like we predicted in front: a fast track, shooting would be important, but it was tight still even though there was a gap at the end. So, a fun relay!”
He praised the fast-skis strategy that allowed him to dominate the anchor leg. “It came by itself. The skis were magnificent! It was not too much of push before I had a gap and could do my own race. A big thanks to the waxmen today. Shooting as well was good, but without the skis, maybe not a victory.”
Austria finished fourth, with just four spare rounds, 2:31.2 back. Czech Republic, with ten spares finished fifth, 2:33.9 back while the home team Finland finished sixth, with a penalty and twelve spares, 2:34.1 back.
Perrot Shines in Leadoff Leg
The first relay of the season was treated to the same -3C temperature as the previous days but virtually no wind, a perfect day on the range. Ten of the twenty teams went 5-for-5 in the first prone. France’s Eric Perrott went 10-for-10 in standing, heading to the first exchange with a 14-second lead. Christiansen caught the young French star, tagging Laegreid .4 seconds ahead of France, with Germany 6.3 seconds back.
Perrot described his first leadoff leg as, “amazing. It was the first time I led off for team France. It felt great to race and do something well. During the race, I was just living the moment and trying to be offensive. I loved (being in) this situation.”
Laegreid’s New Tactic
Second leg Johannes Kuehn blew away his rivals in prone, with a quick clean five shots, taking a 14-second lead over Laegreid who needed a spare round.
The Norwegian caught his German rival by the standing stage with Kuehn using two spares to clean and Laegreid three.
Laegreid explained the out-of-character three spares. “It happened when I tried to do something new. I tried to go hard on the second loop and put pressure on the German but also put pressure on myself. It was not the right tactic. We all had a new tactic to do today…but all-in-all I learned something from it.” The duo battled over the last loop before Kuehn tagged Benedikt Doll a slim .4 seconds before Tarjei.
The two veterans came to the third prone stage in lockstep; shot clean quickly with Doll two seconds faster, while Emilien Jacquelin held onto third position but 24 seconds back. Tarjei led into the standing stage, setting up another duel. They went shot-for-shot, both using a spare round to clean and again Doll getting a very slim lead. Doll and Tarjei battled up to the exchange, tagging Rees and JT in a dead heat.
Tarjei explained, “In a relay it is all about not doing any mistakes and then being a cross-country skier. I solved that task quite okay. I was there with Benni. Me and Benni are quite the same athletes. We like the uphills. The longer the better. I knew he was not the best man to attack; I knew he would be on my back. But it was more an attack on France, trying to keep Quentin from having a close gap to Johannes on the last leg. When the second ran in our favor…I felt Johannes was in the right position.”
Doll added, “My first two laps were not fun; I had to ski with Tarjei! It was really fast, especially the last round. I think he wanted to open a small gap on the uphill but then in the stadium I closed it. Roman (Rees) said he did not want to ski alone, so I gave him Johannes Thingnes Boe! I think he enjoyed it only about five seconds!”
JT Skis to Victory
The Norwegian immediately opened a gap. JT and Rees used spares in prone with JT stretching the gap out to 14.6 seconds. The Norwegian, very much in control extended his lead into the final standing stage. Five quick shots and it was over. Rees and Fillon Maillet in second and third both used a spare to clean. Olympic Champion Norway added another men’s relay victory as JT came to the finish with a big smile and waving at the fans in the tribune.
Photos: IBU/ Christian Manzoni, Henrik Osula