Veteran victory for Denifl/Gruber in Lahti
A superb sprint effort from Berni Gruber and "rocket skis" helped the Austrian veterans Gruber and Denifl to climb to the top spot of the podium in Lahti. Gruber outsprinted Norway's Jørgen Graabak by 0.8 seconds, the local heroes Hirvonen/Herola claimed rank three, finishing 2.1 seconds after the winners after a slight mishap in the last turn.
Franz-Josef Rehrl and Lukas Greiderer were the strongest team in a tough jumping round that had to be stopped multiple times due to technical issues with the timing system. But with 127.5 and 130 metres, Austria II topped the intermediate result list and took a 25 second advantage with them to the start of the cross-country race.
Even though especially the last athletes of the second group had to battle increasing tail wind conditions, Jan Schmid mastered his jump in the best way. Together with teammate Jørgen Graabak (128 m.), Schmid accumulated 257.3 points and the intermediate second place with his jump of 120.5 m.
Local heroes Ilkka Herola and Eero Hirvonen delighted the audience with the intermediate third place after jumps of 123 and 119.5 metres and had to make up 37 seconds on the track. Willi Denifl and Bernhard Gruber followed just one second later with jumps of 123.5 and 118 metres.
Even tough Fabian Rießle was extremely dissatisfied with his jump of 108 metres, teammate Johannes Rydzek had laid a solid foundation with his 130.5 metre jump in the first group and so Team GER I was still within striking distance with their delay of one minute and four seconds.
With the German team on the prowl to regain the seconds they had lost in the ski jumping part, the teams in the lead had to hustle. Both Austrian teams, Norway I and Finland I did a good job of working together and skiing at a quick pace, so that Johannes Rydzek and Fabian Rießle were not able to close the gap fully. The closest they got was 12 seconds of time behind on the leaders at the halfway point of the race but after that the gap widened again until Rießle finally finished on rank five, one minute and 23 seconds after the winners.
In front, the foursome of two Austrian teams, Norway and Finland stayed together until the last lap of the first group. When both Austrian teams had to let go of Jan Schmid and Eero Hirvonen, it looked like the local heroes had good chances to make their home crowd happy.
On the last lap, however, Bernhard Gruber skied a strong race and close the gap again. Ilkka Herola lead the group of three athletes going up the last uphill but his ski got caught in the snow and he took a tumble, effectively ruining his rhythm and good position. Going into the stadium in third position, Herola did not have the strength to fight for the first two positions anymore.
In contrast, Bernhard Gruber seemed to get a second wind and put down a phenomenal sprint on the final metres, one that even strong sprinter Jørgen Graabak could not counter anymore. In the end, only seconds separated the first three teams, team Austria II with jumping winners Rehrl/Greiderer took a strong fourth place, +30.3 seconds after their teammates.
The Top Ten were completed by Germany II (Frenzel/Geiger) on position six, Norway II (Andersen/Kokslien) on seven after a lost photo finish with Germany II, France I was eighth, Finland II ninth and Poland I tenth.