Men's 4 x 10 km relay, Soldier Hollow, 17 February, 2002

The Soldier Hollow venue was packed to capacity when a dramatic sporting competition unfolded in the men's nordic relay on a slightly gray but gorgeous day.  The format of the race was 4 legs of 10 km each.  The first two legs were skiied in the classic technique and the last two were freestyle.  Each leg was 2 laps of a hilly course; the classic and freestyle loops were slightly different, with a bit less climbing in the classic legs.  We chose a viewing spot not far from the top of the last major climb on the loop; the climb is also the longest on the course.  From our spot you could see nearly the entire course, and could easily keep track of the racers' moves throughout the race.  We had a good view of the stadium loop.  Below are some shots from the event.

Lap 1.  A lead group is beginning to form under pressure from the Norwegian Anders Aukland, with John Bauer making the selection for the USA (in fourth position).  In third is Fabio Maj (ITA), followed by Andrei Golovko (Kazakstan), US, and Jens Filbricht of Germany.  

lap one climb

By lap two (below) a clear selection had been forced by Anders Aukland.  John Bauer, under pressure, follows at a few ski lengths.  Behind him is Golovko, Maj and Filbricht.  That damn Yankee made the break!  What was in those Wheaties?

hill lap two

Auckland opened an 8 second gap over Maj (ITA) by the end of his leg, to which Frode Estil added as he blazed around the course.  The shot below shows him in full stride up a steep hill during his last lap.    He passed along an 11 second lead over second - placed Germany to Kristen Skjeldal.   Andrus Veerpalu put in a fantastic second leg for Estonia and pulled them from 9th place at 45 seconds to 3rd in a virtual dead heat with Germany.  Italy trailed by 24 seconds in fourth position.  Kris Freeman held the U.S. in 5th place at 25.5 seconds - he must have eaten the same Wheaties as Bauer!  

lap 4

Italy's third skiier, Pietro Piller-Cottrer, rapidly closed the gap on Germany's Angerer Tobias and Jak Mae of Estonia after he began his leg.  Below he puts them into difficulty on the big climb near then end of their first lap.  

lap 5, ITA, AUS, EST

Justin Wadsworth skiied a great third leg for the U.S. to keep the team in 5th position, just under a minute behind the boys from Norway.  He lost about 30 seconds to Skejldal (NOR).  Below he V1s up the climb.   More magical Wheaties?

Justin Wadsworth

Peitro Piller-Cottrer dropped the rest of his chase group and caught Skjeldal early on their second lap.  He lead Skjeldal up the final climb on their last lap in a power-packed V2.  

hill lap 6

Skjeldal handed-off to Thomas Alsgaard and Cristian Zorzi took over for Italy.  Zorzi is known for having a winning turn of speed in a finale, and he 'sucked ski' behind Alsgaard for their entire 10 km leg.  Alsgaard tried to convince him to pull through without success.  Below Alsgaard can be seen leading Zorzi up the final hill on their first lap.  Further down the hill is Rene Sommerfeldt of Germany.  Meelis Aasmae was unable to get the job done for Estonia and quickly fell out of the third position that Jak Mae had put them in.  

hill lap 7

Alsgaard and Zorzi in phase in V1 on their first lap.

Alsgaard leads Zorzi on lap 7

Below is a nice 4-shot sequence of Meelis Aasmae working the V1 up the climb on his first lap.  

Meelis 1       Meelis 2
Meelis 3         Meelis 4

The bell lap saw Zorzi continue to draft Alsgaard.  Until 2/3 of the way up the final big hill.

hill lap 8

Zorzi attacks: directly in front of us, Zorzi suddenly moved tot he left and went into a V1-hop!  He managed to get alongside Alsgaard but no more.  Then over the top of the hill he refused to pull through even when Alsgaard completely sat up.  Afterwards Alsgaard said he very much wanted to follow Zorzi into the stadium, but felt enough was enough when Zorzi wouldn't come by.  

Zorzi attacks Alsgaard

Alsgaard did lead into the stadium.  Zorzi got a nice draft on the decent to the far end of the stadium loop, jumped out of the lanes and skated like a madman past Alsgaard.  He actually opened a bit of a gap as they rounded the 180o sweeper that brought them into the ~150 m , slightly uphill finishing straight.  But once Alsgaard got up to speed in his V2 there was no stopping him and he convincingly came around Zorzi to give Norway a beautiful victory.  Sommerfeldt brought Germany home in an equally well-deserved 3rd.  Meanwhile Austria's Cristian Hoffman - who took the silver in the 30 km freestyle race a week earlier - had come from 6th position and caught and passed Carl Swenson of the U.S.  As the crowd cheered madly, Hoffman lead Swenson by a few lengths up the final climb and it looked like Austria had fourth place in the bag.  But as they sprinted up the finishing straight Swenson really put the wood to it and nearly - but not quite - came by Hoffman.  Swenson ended up with the 5th fastest leg of the day.  Damn it, I want some of those red blood cell - fortified Wheaties!  The final result was Norge, Italia, Deutschland, Austria, U.S.A.  

                                                                                Alsgaard celebrates