KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Dario Cologna of Switzerland and Norway's Kristin Stoermer Steira claimed their first cross-country World Cup victories of the season Saturday by winning skiathlon races on the course that will be used for the Sochi Olympics.
Cologna pulled away from his rivals on the last uphill section of the course, creating a big enough gap to sprint to the finish alone and win in 1 hour, 21 minutes. He was followed by four Russian skiers, with Ilya Chernousov finishing 1.6 seconds behind in second and Alexander Legkov another 0.2 back in third.
Norway's Petter Northug, normally the strongest sprinter on the circuit in mass-start races, couldn't keep up with Cologna's pace on the last uphill and finished in 12th place, 22.9 seconds back. "It was a tough race till the very end," Cologna said. "But it was a good race for me. I like this last top hill here before the finish and I did my best on it today. It's good to win so close before the world championships."
Earlier, Steira won the women's 15K race in 46:17.7 at the Laura cross-country and biathlon center, where organizers and skiers are getting a three-day dress rehearsal for next year's Winter Games. Yulia Tchekaleva of Russia was second, 19.2 seconds behind. Germany's Nicole Fessel was another 0.7 seconds back for third.
Overall world Cup leader Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland led early but then dropped back and had to retire after about six kilometres. Steira took the lead at the 5K mark and completely dominated the freestyle leg of the race.
"The skate course is really tough here and the finish line was also difficult," Steira said. "I like it here. I like the course and I'm looking forward to coming here next year." After 21 of 31 races this season, Cologna leads the men's overall standings with 1,013 points. Legkov is 39 points behind for second, while Northug is third with 929.
Kowalczyk leads the women's standings with 1,372 points. Norway's Therese Johaug is second with 947, followed by American Kikkan Randall with 874. The World Cup meet wraps up Sunday with team sprint races.