Vittoz shakes drug test flap to win 30K at Nordic worlds

Vittoz shakes drug test flap to win 30K at Nordic worlds{mosimage}OBERSTDORF, Germany – Vincent Vittoz shook off a flawed drug test to win the 30-kilometer pursuit and capture France’s first ever cross country gold medal at the Nordic Skiing World Championships on Sunday.

Vittoz outsprinted a pack of eight to reach the finish line in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 20.5 seconds.

Italian Giorgio Di Centa edged Norway’s Frode Estil for the silver in a photo finish. They were 0.8 seconds behind.

Vittoz was reduced to tears when a doping test Jan. 15 following a World Cup win was positive for furosemide, classified as a masking agent and diuretic on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.

He was cleared two weeks later when his backup B sample proved negative.

“It’s unbelievable,” Vittoz said of his first major medal. “I knew I was innocent and I tried to concentrate on these championships. I went through 15 difficult days but I kept practicing.”

Vittoz, second in the World Cup standings, was one of the favorites in the mass start race along with several Germans. Until the final sprint, the lead group was never smaller than four skiers, swelling to nine just a few kilometers before the end.

Vittoz charged back from 11th in the slower classic portion of the race, trailing by 25 seconds, after skiers switched to the faster freestyle skis for the final 15 kilometers.

Vittoz tried to bolt clear on a steep hill during the last round, but the pack caught him again.

“I was afraid because there were so many skiers,” Vittoz said. “It was hard with my legs, but in my head I decided no one was going to get ahead of me.”

The Frenchman, after winning three World Cups this year, hadn’t cracked the top 30 in any race that followed his flawed doping test _ then finished sixth in the 15k freestyle at the worlds.

“After Thursday’s 15k, I knew I was in good shape,” Vittoz said. “I spent two weeks at high altitude and it’s paying off.”

Di Centa also picked up his first major medal, while Estil added to a silver and two bronzes from the last two worlds. The Norwegian also won pursuit gold at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

The Germans never factored in Sunday’s race. Axel Teichmann, the World Cup leader, was 30th, two places behind last year’s overall World Cup winner, Rene Sommerfeldt.

-The Associated Press

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