Russia’s Sergey Ustiugov claimed victory in the men’s freestyle sprint race to get his Tour de Ski campaign off to the best possible start in Val Müstair in Switzerland.
Ustiugov delivered success for his under-fire nation just 24 hours after the International Ski Federation (FIS) rejected the appeals of six Russian skiers who have been suspended after being linked to doping manipulations at Sochi 2014, which were mentioned in the McLaren Report.
The 24-year-old, a World Championships bronze medallist in 2013, finished the final heat of the 1.5 kilometres race in a time of 3min 0.50sec.
The Russian skier crossed the line just over two seconds in front of Federico Pellegrino of Italy, who won the overall sprint crown last season, while third place went to Norway’s Finn Hågen Krogh.
Ustiugov’s victory moved him into top spot on the Tour de Ski standings, with the race also contributing towards the FIS Cross Country World Cup rankings.
"I did not feel unbeatable but I felt very strong today," said Ustiugov.
"It is good start the Tour with a victory.
"I will try to stay behind Sundby tomorrow."
Double Olympic medallist Martin Johnsrud Sundby retained his World Cup lead from Krogh as he came home in fourth.
The Norwegian has a total of 590 points, with Krogh second on 455.
In the women’s race, Sweden's Stina Nilsson secured an impressive win in a time of 3:26.27, edging fellow sprint specialist Maiken Caspersen Falla of Norway.
Overall World Cup leader Heidi Weng had to settle for third, maintaining her streak of podiums this season.
Weng sits on 697 points, 44 more than second-placed skier and compatriot Ingvild Flugstad Østberg.
Both male and female fields will race in a mass start distance classical format on Sunday (January 1).
They will then move to Oberstdorf in Germany for skiathlon and a distance free technique pursuit on Tuesday and Wednesday (January 3 to 4).
Further individual and mass start will then be held in the Italian resorts of Toblach and Val di Fiemme on January 6 and 7 before the Tour de Ski concludes with a climb free technique pursuit on January 8.