Muehlegg, Tchepalova Win Nordic World Cup

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Brusson, Italy Dec. 12, 2001 (AP)--Johann Muehlegg of Spain and World Cup champion Yulia Tchepalova of Russia won cross-country races Wednesday.

Muehlegg, who was born in Germany, captured the men's 15-kilometer freestyle event. Tchepalova edged Italy's Stefania Belmondo by 0.8 seconds in the women's 10K freestyle.

Carl Swenson of the United States was the top North American. He finished 18th, trailing Muehlegg by 1 minute, 22 seconds.

This was the first victory of the season for Muehlegg and the second consecutive loss in World Cup races for the powerful Scandinavian teams.

Muehlegg was timed in 33:50.4 seconds, for his first victory of the season. He took a decisive lead in a tough uphill section of the ring covered with man-made snow.

Austria's Christian Hoffmann finished second, 23.9 seconds behind. Sweden's Per Elofsson was third, 32.5 off the pace. Elofsson, the reigning World Cup champion, moved into first place in the overall standings with 269 points after five races.

Anders Aukland of Norway, who had led the standings until Wednesday, slipped to second with 247 points. He finished 16th, more than a minute behind the winner. Muehlegg moved to third with 187 points.

In the women's race, Tchepalova covered the 10 kilometers in 24:55.9, capitalizing on a strong finish.

Belmondo was timed in 24:56.7, while Estonia's Kristina Smigun took third place, 7.8 seconds behind the winner.

``She started behind me and she knew my time,'' Belmondo said. ``Thus she could push harder and harder in the final kilometer.''

Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic finished fourth, retaining her overall lead with 286 points. Tchepalova is second at 281.

World Cup competition continues with the women's 10K and the men's 15K classic style races at Davos, Switzerland, this weekend.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press