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Russians Win Ski Relays

December 7, 1997

SANTA CATERINA VALFURVA, Italy (AP) _ Russian teams dominated the men’s and women’s relay races in the second round of World Cup ski cross-country Sunday.

Sergei Tchepikov anchored Russia to a 23.6-second victory over Italy in the men’s 40-kilometer freestyle event in this Alpine resort.

In absence of cross-country superpowers Norway and Finland, Sweden was the top Scandinavian finisher in third place, 1:36.2 minutes behind the Russian quartet.

Germany outsprinted Italy’s D team for fourth place, 1:58.4 minutes behind.

France placed sixth, nearly three minutes behind.

The Russian women’s team, including defending World Cup champion Elena Vaelbe and veteran Larisa Lasutina, took the women’s 20-kilometer freestyle race, 33.1 seconds ahead of Russia B, anchored by Nina Gavriljuk.

Italy, led by Stefania Belmondo who clocked the fastest leg time in the last five kilometers, finished third, with a gap of one minute, 13.8 seconds.

France came in fourth, ahead of Ukraine and Germany.

Japan placed seventh, 3:01.2 minutes behind. Canada trailed the winners by 4:46.4 minutes, in 14th place.

In the men’s event Tchepikov, an Olympic biathlon champion who turned to ski cross-country full time, started the final leg with Italy’s Roberto De Zolt very close to him.

The Russian skier landed the decisive attack two kilometers from the finish, in the most difficult uphill section of the course, and De Zolt was unable to keep his pace.

``I did my best, but we proved stronger. We must be satisfied with the runnerup place,″ De Zolt said.

It actually was a huge improvement for the Italian quartet from the opening World Cup relay race in Beitostolen, Norway, where Italy finished ninth.

Norway, led by superace Bjorn Dahlie, won the opening relay on the home track ahead of Finland last Nov. 23.

Tchepikov teamed with Maxim Pitschugin, Wladimir Legotin and Alexej Prokurorov. Their winning time was one hour, 42 minutes. 4.3 seconds.

The Italian team was made with Fabio Mai, Silvio Fauner, Pietro Piller Cottrer and De Zolt. It was the first season race for Fauner, who just recovered from a broken shoulder.

The winning time of the Russian women’s team was 56 minutes, 47.9 seconds. Weather was sunny and cold.

Some teams did not enter Sunday’s races here as relay does not award individual World Cup points but but only counts for the Nations Cup.

The World Cup continues in Milan Wednesday with men’s and women’s individual sprint events, unusually held on a ring of artificial snow at a cycling track.

It’s the first time that Milan, Italy’s industrial and commercial capital in the Po valley plains, hosts World Cup cross-country races.

Daehlie and his Norwegian teammates were expected to start in the sprints at the Vigorelli Velodrome.

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