Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Buddies overcome leaders in cross-country freestyle


Pietro Piller Cottrer, right, of Italy celebrates with compatriot Fulvio Valbusa after the men's 15km freestyle during the Nordic Skiing World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany on Thursday. Piller Cottrer won the event and Fulvio Valbusa was second.


Best fiends Pietro Piller Cottrer and Fulvio Valbusa shocked the favorites Thursday with a 1-2 finish in the men's 15km cross-country freestyle race at the Nordic Ski World Championships.

Piller Cottrer finished in 34 minutes, 49.7, 11.2 seconds ahead of his roommate, and the two, claiming Italy's first 1-2 sweep at a Nordic worlds, celebrated wildly until officials calmed them down.

"For me it was like a victory when I heard Pietro was ahead during the race," Valbusa said. "It's not only that we are good friends, we are like brothers."

Norwegian Ruud Hofstad finished third for his first medal at a major event, crossing 14.2 behind Piller Cottrer.

In the women's 10km freestyle, veteran Czech Katerina Neumannova also was a surprise winner on the two-week event's opening day, claiming her first gold medal at a major championship in a 14-year career.

She managed the difficult Oberstdorf course, covered with 80cm of fresh snow, in 26:27.6, edging Russia's Julija Tchepalova by 1.2 seconds. Norway's Marit Bjorgen was third, 15.2 behind.

"Of course it's a dream. I've won so many silvers," said Neumannova, who came back this season after giving birth.

German bookmakers made Cottrer Piller -- fourth in the 30km at the 2002 Olympics -- a 15-1 longshot. He hadn't finished better than seventh in a World Cup event this season, while the best from the 36-year-old Valbusa was 11th.

Piller Cottrer admitted he and Valbusa didn't even discuss the possibility of winning a medal when they left the hotel in the morning.

"I've had so much trouble this season with the skis, my back, I couldn't even think about making the podium," said Piller Cottrer, 30. "Now I'm world champion."

Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen failed in his bid to win a cross-country medal after capturing four Olympic biathlon golds in Salt Lake City. He finished 11th, 40.9 seconds back.

Another Norwegian biathlete -- Lars Berger -- fared much better, finishing fourth.

The two favorites, World Cup leader Axel Teichmann and top rival Vincent Vittoz of France, struggled. Teichman wound up seventh after a week of fighting a cold while Vittoz was sixth.

Neumannova won several silver and bronze medals at the Olympics and worlds in her career, but never the gold.

The breakthrough came despite caring for her 20-month-old daughter, which reduces her training time.

"She's made my life better, but it is hard to find the time," Neumannova said.

Tchepalova, whose two Olympic victories included the 30km, was almost a minute ahead of Neumannova with 1.6km left, before the Czech rallied.

Neumannova fell on her back after the race and shook her hands in glee.

Siegfried Grabner of Austria won the men's World Cup snowboard parallel giant slalom event on Friday while World Cup leader Daniela Meuli took top honors in the women's race.

Grabner defeated Switzerland's Philipp Schoch in the finals for his second giant slalom title of the season. Schoch, the 2002 Olympic slalom champion, still leads the overall giant slalom World Cup standings and has won five titles this season.

Switzerland's Urs Eiselin, who is second in the overall standings, finished third in Friday's race.

In the women's event, Meuli of Switzerland defeated America's Michelle Gorgone in the final.

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