Graabak sprints to Team Event glory for Norway
In a fantastic finish to a tight race, Norway’s Jørgen Graabak sprinted his team to a home victory in Lillehammer. In a fight of strong finishers, the Olympic Champion out-sprinted Germany’s Fabian Rießle on the last metres. Jason Lamy Chappuis won a finish line sprint with Eero Hirvonen to capture the third rank for the French team.
Jørgen Graabak, Jarl Magnus Riiber, Jan Schmid and Espen Andersen ruled supreme on the jumping hill and earned a 46-second head start on Team Germany for the race. With 102.5 metres, Riiber set the longest jump of the day but also Graabak won his group with 97 metres. Schmid and Andersen were second in their respective groups with distances of 93.5 and 98 metres.
Eric Frenzel slowly returned to old jumping strength for the German team and won his group with 95 metres. World Cup leader Akito Watabe also had a fantastic jump of 99 metres and won group 4. The Japanese team ranked third and started with a delay of 50 seconds.
Still in the fight for a podium result were the French, Austrians and Finnish teams, who had to contend with time behinds of one minute and 12, 28 and 37 seconds. Team Slovenia had also been in a good position but Leon Sarc was disqualified due to a non-rule conforming ski jumping boot.
The first group of racers started slightly spread out but the fight for the victory and the third remaining spot on the podium began quite soon. Jan Schmid managed to hold Eric Frenzel at bay in the first quarter of the race and only lost about 15 seconds to Nordic Combined's superstar, Espen Andersen had to contend with quadruple Lahti World Champion Johannes Rydzek on the second leg. At the second exchange, the delay of Team Germany had melted to 17 seconds.
Jarl Riiber as the third skier was in his first cross-country race on World Cup level since his shoulder injury in Seefeld last winter. German team debutant Vinzenz Geiger managed to close the gap to Riiber fully, even though Norwegian tried to attack and shake the German off again on his last of two laps. So the fight for the victory was on between Jørgen Graabak and Fabian Rießle, both seasoned athletes and known for their sprinting and finishing qualities. While they skied a measured race on their two laps, the battle on the final stretch was intense. Rießle lead going into the final stretch but Graabak picked the way around the German and outsprinted him on the right side. In the end, 1.7 seconds separated rank one from rank two.
Behind the two first teams a riveting fight was on for the bronze position as well. The teams from Japan, France, Finland and Austria were vying for this positions. Team Austria was the first to have to bury their aspirations when Mario Seidl lost contact to the other teams on his leg of the race. In the end, they finished sixth +1:47.1 behind the winners.
Team Japan fought until the last lap but ultimately, Yoshito Watabe was no match for Eero Hirvonen and Jason Lamy Chappuis. Lamy Chappuis and Hirvonen duelled until the finish line as well and here experience beat youth with Olympic and World Champion Lamy Chappuis secured a third place for his team, +21.4 seconds after the winners. Finland finished 0.6 seconds later.
All athletes lined up to receive and applaud Slovenian (former Austrian) Tomaz Druml, who reached the finish as the last athlete. He has to end his career due to health issues and skied his last race today.