Cindy Klassen wins 1,500 gold at speed skating World Cup

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg earned her second straight World Cup long track speed skating gold medal in the women’s 1,500-metres on Sunday to complete a fabulous opening road trip for the Canadian women’s team.

In the women’s 1,500, Klassen clocked 1:56.60 for her third individual medal this season. Jennifer Rodriguez of the U.S., was second in 1:57.33 and Renate Groenewold of the Netherlands third in 1:57.63.

"I started a little bit faster in my opener and I was able to hold the lap times very well," said Klassen, the all around world champion two seasons ago who missed most last season with an injury. "It’s a strategy that may work because I need to get out faster to stay with my opponents. I still need to keep working at it because even today on the first lap my pair was well ahead of me."

Kristina Groves of Ottawa was fourth in a personal best 1:57.76 and Clara Hughes of Glen Sutton, Que., 17th in 2:01.00.

Groves was in the last pair of the day against Groenewold, the all around world champion. The Dutch skater beat the Canadian by 0.13 seconds for the bronze. On Saturday Groenewold beat Hughes for the gold by 0.03 in a 5,000-metre pairing.

"To be last pair is something I’m not use to," said Groves, who beat double Olympic champion Claudia Pechstein of Germany in Saturday’s final 5,000 pairing for fourth spot. "I’ve been dealing with it pretty well and I don’t get freaked out. It’s probably a good experience."

In the group 2 race, Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., was 11th and Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg 13th.

In Sunday’s men’s 10,000 Gianne Romme of the Netherlands won the gold medal. In the group2 race, Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., was 13th and Jamie Ivey of Ottawa 17th.

At the first three World Cups for the distance skaters this season, the Canadian women have compiled six gold medals and three silver. Groves opened the season with a victory in the women’s 3,000. Hughes has sparkled in the longer distances with a gold and two silver. Canada also swept gold in both women’s pursuit World Cup events with Groves, Klassen and Hughes. The pursuit is a new official event on the 2006 Olympic program.

"We’ve come out and had some really awesome races," said Groves. "But the World Cup after Christmas tends to be a totally different game with the world championships on the schedule."

The Canadian sprinters featuring world champion Jeremy Wotherspoon start their World Cup season next weekend in Nagano, Japan.