Cologna, who claimed Olympic cross country 15km freestyle gold at Vancouver 2010, was making his tenth start at a World Championships in the pursuit with a best finish of fourth in the sprint in 2009.
However, having won the past three World Cup pursuit races he has entered, Cologna seized the initiative in the 15km classic, 15km freestyle to break his World Championship medal drought.
Cologna, from Switzerland, made a break with less than four kilometres to go in Val di Fiemme and was not to be caught as he stormed away at the death to record a winning time of 1:13:09.3hours.
With a Norway one-two-three-four in the women's pursuit, Cologna prevented another clean sweep for the nation with Martin Johnsrud Sundby winning a sprint finish for second with Sjur Roethe.
The third Norwegian was none other than Northug, the defending pursuit champion having taken gold in Liberec in 2009 and in Oslo in 2011, who was 3.2seconds off claiming a medal in fourth.
It was Sundby who made the first telling break in the pursuit from a sizeable leading pack at the 22.5km mark however he was all alone and was soon swallowed back up.
Roethe was the next in front with 3.75km to go before his Norwegian teammate Tord Asle Gjerdalen threatened to go himself but the main protagonists in the race were not to be caught out.
Cologna and Maxim Vylegzhanin were too aware however the former took the opportunity from thereon in to break away himself for a lead that he would not relinquish.
He made another breakaway from the two chasing him after the final climb to win by 1.8 seconds ahead of Sundby who got the better of Roethe at the line.