Dario Cologna timed his break perfectly to win the men's 30-kilometre pursuit skiathlon at the Nordic skiing world championships on Saturday in Val di Fiemme, Italy, edging out Norwegians Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Sjur Roethe.

Defending champion Petter Northug was fourth, 5.2 seconds behind Cologna.

Cologna, who leads the overall World Cup standings, won in one hour, 13 minutes and 19.3 seconds, beating Sundby by 1.8 seconds. Roethe was 2.0 seconds behind Cologna.

Having already won the overall World Cup three times to go with an Olympic gold, the Swiss skier can finally call himself a world champion as well.

"It's a very great feeling," Cologna said. "I really wanted to win and I did everything I could today. I felt great the whole race. It was a very strong, very tactical race. I did a lot of work on my own and I was very strong and I knew I could win."

The 26-year-old Swiss skier made his move on the final uphill section, about three kilometres from the finish. Cologna, who won the Olympic 15k free in Vancouver, swiftly opened up a clear gap on his pursuers going into the final stretch, eliminating the chance of a final sprint.

That was especially important to hold off Northug, the Norwegian seven-time world champion who specializes in using his sprinting ability to win mass-start races.

"I expected it to be close at the end, but I did think someone might go a bit earlier," Cologna said. "I tried to break a bit earlier but it didn't work. I felt very good at the top of the hill when I looked back and saw a small gap behind me.

"I wanted to fight for gold, not silver so I decided to go myself. The last uphill is always aggressive for me. I did it already on the final uphill at Sochi this month and today I did it again."

Alex Harvey of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., was the top Canadian in 13th place.

Uphill battle

The day didn't start too positively for Cologna as he fell on one of the first uphills, but he swiftly recovered and caught up with the leading group on the second lap.

Sundby attacked about 10K from the finish, building a lead of about 20 seconds, but was caught on the penultimate lap.

"I didn't expect to win then at all," Sundby said. "In the second lap of the free, I suddenly had a few seconds advantage and I tried to keep a good speed, but I didn't think it would hold for gold."

Cologna then made his break, chased by Maxim Vylegzhanin, Roethe and Sundby.

Northug was slow to react and, although he upped his speed, he could not catch up with his teammates.

He did manage to overtake Vylegzhanin, with the Russian finishing in fifth.

Cologna became the first Swiss skier to win a cross-country gold medal at the world championships. Cologna was also the first Swiss winner of the World Cup and the Tour de Ski.

Asked whether he might now be nearing the level of fame that tennis star Roger Federer enjoys in his country, Cologna only laughed.

"I'd have to change sports for that," he said.