Cross-Country

Erik Valnes beats Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo in World Cup opener

Valnes scored his first World Cup win in the sprint in Ruka as Linn Svahn led home a Sweden 1-2-3 in the women's.

By Rory Jiwani ·

Erik Valnes beat three-time Olympic champion Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo to take the opening Cross-Country World Cup event of the season, the Sprint Classic in Ruka, Finland.

Emil Iversen ensured Norway swept the men's podium with Russia's reigning overall World Cup winner and four-time Olympic medallist Alexander Bolshunov in fourth.

Klaebo - whose dominance of sprint races has earned comparisons with Usain Bolt - led approaching the final uphill section, but Valnes fairly surged up the climb from third place into the lead as the pair pulled clear.

And the 24-year-old extended his advantage on the flat to claim his first World Cup triumph, punching the air with delight after crossing the line.

As well as describing his obvious joy, Valnes reflected on the strength in the Norwegian ranks as he spoke in his post-race interview.

He said, "We are a strong team and we push each other and we're happy with each other when our friends do a good race. I hope they are happy for me today."

"First World Cup victory... it has been a dream since I was a little boy. I'm thinking about all the hours of training. It's really big for me." - Erik Valnes

Sweden filled the podium places in the women's with defending World Cup sprint champion Linn Svahn taking the win.

Norway's Lotta Udnes Weng, a cousin of former world champion Heidi Weng, led approaching the final climb but was soon overhauled by the Swedes with Svahn powering into the lead.

The 20-year-old sprint specialist won comfortably with Maja Dahlqvist holding off Jonna Sundling for second and Weng back in fourth.

Svahn was relieved to get her campaign off to a winning start after a troubled preparation.

She told FIS, "I'm so glad to be able to start the season with a victory. I felt like I needed to defend my bib from last year. I have had a lot of bad races so I felt really strong to get back and win today.

"It's so nice to be able to be beside two Swedish girls because I know we are a really strong team and it's so nice to be able to show it at the beginning of the season because I know much more is coming."