AUDI FIS SKI CROSS WORLD CUP
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Innichen/San Candido, ITA - The Audi Ski Cross World Cup is set to return to Italy's Innichen/San Candido this weekend for the sixth time in seven seasons, with back-to-back events slated for Saturday and Sunday after Friday's qualifications.
A scheduled Innichen/San Candido event last season - the one that would have made this season's World Cup the seventh straight - was cancelled due to a lack of snow, and while organizers again faced adverse conditions this year, a herculean effort on all parts has ensured that the event will go off on a course that has thus-far been lauded by many athletes as the best here yet.
Innichen/San Candido is the longest-running event on the current Audi Ski Cross World Cup tour, and many of this season's athletes have had great success here in the past.
For the ladies, Anna Holmlund (SWE) comes into this weekend's event as not just the 2015/16 World Cup leader, but also a three-time past winner at Innichen/San Candido, with three straight victories from December 2009 to December 2010 and a third-place finish in in 2013.
Despite this impressive record, Holmlund is actually only the second winningest skier ever at Innichen, as Kelsey Serwa (CAN) holds five previous podiums at the Italian venue - three victories to match Holmlund, as well as a pair of second-place finishes to push her to the top.
While Serwa's successes in Innichen have come more recently then Holmlund's, Serwa is still finding her groove after taking last season off for academic pursuits. Though her results have steadily improved through the season's first three races (capped off with a sixth place finish in Saturday's Val Thorens contest), she and the rest of the field will be in tough against a fully in-control Holmlund.
Marielle Thompson (CAN) will be looking to bounce back after after a pair of crashes in Val Thorens forced her to settle for a fourth and a fifth-place result, while Sandra Naeslund (SWE), Ophelie David (FRA), Andrea Limbacher (AUT), and Alizee Baron (FRA) will be looking to use their seasons' first podiums from last weekend as a springboard to more success in Italy.
Also to watch out for will be speedster Katrin Mueller (SUI), who is expected to return to competition for the first time this season at the venue where she last claimed a World Cup victory, back in 2013.
On the men's side, a slew of skiers come into this weekend's event with multiple podiums at Innichen/San Candido, including Egor Korotkov (RUS), Brady Leman (CAN), David Duncan (CAN), Andy Matt (AUT), and Alex Fiva (SUI). While Fiva leads the way with four podiums, including a win in 2012, and Duncan has the distinction of scoring back-to-back victories last time we were here in 2013, both those skiers have struggled to find their form so far this season.
At the top of the 2015/16 rankings and nearly unbeatable so far this season has been Chris Delbosco (CAN). Up until the big final of Saturday's race Delbosco had yet to lose a heat in 2015/16, and were it not for the the sheer will of Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) and his desire to win on his home track, Delbosco would likely be three-for-three on the season.
However, Delbosco has never scored a podium at Innichen/San Candido, and the tighter track here doesn't necessarily play to his strengths. He, along with his teammate Brady Leman, Filip Flisar (SLO), Chapuis, and the rest of the field will have to adjust their skiing to deal with the tricky features and combinations offered by the course this weekend.
Perhaps Innichen/San Candido will be just the tonic needed to jump-start the likes of Fiva and Duncan, or Daniel Bohnacker (GER), Armin Niederer (SUI), Jonathan Midol (FRA), or any number of other competitors who thrive in more creative situations.
No matter what though, a surging Chapuis is a concern for all the men on the Audi Ski Cross World Cup tour. Coming into this weekend's event with no results from last year to really judge who might have the edge in Innichen/San Candido, it'll be worth watching to see whether last weekend's win was the launchpad Chapuis needed to restart his domination of the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup tour, or if the different challenges of the Innichen/San Candido course open things up for some new winners.
Action in Innichen/San Candido gets underway on Friday with two rounds of qualifications, followed by back-to-back races on Saturday and Sunday.
Chapuis thrills home crowd; Holmlund makes it two in a row
Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) thrilled a chainsaw, flare, and siren-wielding crowd, finally scoring a win on the course that bears his name, while Anna Holmlund (SWE) made it two wins in a row this weekend in Val Thorens (FRA).
Chapuis was given the honour of having the ski cross course named in his honour after he lead a French sweep of the podium at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. However, until Saturday, the best he had ever performed in front of his home fans was a second-place result last season.
A disappointing quarter final exit in Friday's competition had it looking like maybe the pressure of having an entire town placing their hopes on his back were distracting Chapuis.
On Saturday, however, last season's World Cup crystal globe winner was back in the razor sharp form that saw him finish 2014/15 with four victories in the final five events, completing some of the best passes seen this season and going toe-to-toe in the corners with the imposing Chris Delbosco (CAN) in the big final to take the victory in front of an ecstatic crowd.
Delbosco has been on an a roll this season, with victories last week in Montafon and on Friday in Val Thorens. After powering through his first three heats nearly unchallenged, it looked like the veteran would be unbeatable once again.
In the big final, however, Chapuis reeled Delbosco in through the top part of the course after the Canadian's fast start, then made the pass and pulled away.
"Today was a perfect day. To share this with the people of Val Thorens and the fans is just perfect," said Chapuis after the race, "Yesterday I was really disappointed, but more for my fans than for me. I know I made some big mistakes. Today I wanted to make it better, so that they could forget yesterday's race. I did my best to get the win here today. It was difficult because I didn't have the best starts but I made some good passes on the rest of the track.
Delbosco, perhaps surprised at finally getting caught after wining every heat so far this season, lost momentum once caught by Chapuis, eventually getting passed yet again by Thomas Harasser (AUT) as the Austrian made good on the promise he has shown at points over the last two seasons by scoring his first career World Cup podium.
Daniel Bohnacker (GER), after nearly crashing immediately out of the start gate, finished in fourth.
The ladies' final was something of an anticlimax, with both Andrea Limbacher (AUT) and Heidi Zacher (GER) pulling out of the gate a little too enthusiastically and crashing before the first jump while Holmlund and French favourite Alizee Baron (FRA) sped away.
Baron kept pace with Holmlund in impressive fashion, but couldn't make any real moves on the powerful Swede, as Holmlund sailed over the final jump and into her second victory in as many days with relative ease.
"You're always challenged out there," she said of her performance, "It's never easy. I just tried to focus on my skiing and doing what I could to control my race since I was pretty bad in training and in qualies. I'm really glad. I'm really tired, but I'm really happy to be able to win. I skied well and it was nice to not get passed."
Back at the start, behind Holmlund and Baron, Limbacher pulled herself together quicker than Zacher, pinning her way down the rest of the course and into third place for her fifth podium in nine races, dating back to last season.
In the finish area Limbacher greeted Zacher with a smile and a hug, each knowing that, like Holmlund explained, nothing's ever easy at the Audi ski cross World Cup Val Thorens.
Val Thorens, FRA - The first of this weekend's back-to-back races at the annual Val Thorens stop on the Audi FIS ski cross World Cup tour took place on Friday on the gruelling Jean Frederic Chapuis course, with the thrilling racing we've come to expect from the iconic French venue resulting in Anna Holmlund (SWE) taking victory on the ladies' side and Chris Del Bosco (CAN) making it two-for-two on the season with a win for the men.
Holmlund was the top qualifier by a long shot on Thursday, besting her teammate Sandra Naeslung by nearly half a second in the seeding round, with last week's winner Marielle Thompson (CAN) qualifying in third.
Not surprisingly, on Friday we saw all three of those ladies' make their way through to the big final with strong skiing in some hotly contested heats. The top trio was joined in the big finals by French legend Ophelie David in her first race of the season, with all four of the finalists battling their way to the big show with timely passes at key points in the earlier heats.
With four of the best ski cross athletes in the world lined up in the start gate, it was expected that the battle would continue through to the very end. However, straight out of the gate, Thompson and Holmlund engaged in some minor incidental ski contact that lead Thompson to hook an edge and go catapulting over the first jump.
"I think we touched boots," Holmlund said about the incident, "I think she unbuckled my buckles there (with her boot). We touched and then I saw her in front there falling over the jump, and then Sandra (Naeslund) just took off. So I was a little bit stressed but I just tried to keep calm and nail everything. I'm glad Marielle's fine. It looked pretty bad."
After Naeslund took the early lead, Holmlund was able to smoothly reel her younger teammate back in, carrying a strong line through the make-or-break negative turn and cruising through the finish for the victory.
Describing her race Holmlund said, "I skied really good yesterday in the qualies, so I was just trying to focus on my own skiing. If I was going to end up behind, I knew that I was fast and I was concentrating on not getting unfocused, just skiing fast and getting down."
Behind Holmlund, David was unable to make a real challenge on the speedy Naeslund, and it was Sweden first and second with David in third taking the sole podium for the home squad on the day.
With her win, Holmlund was able to take over the red bib as the World Cup leader.
On the men's side, Chris Delbosco continued his torrid start to the season and Filip Flisar (SLO) and Brady Leman (CAN) switched places from last week in Montafon, with Delbosco taking his second win in as many races, followed by Flisar in second and Leman in third.
From the outset it was clear there would be no easy way to the final, with sixth-place qualifier Andy Matt (AUT) going out in round one, followed by top qualifier and hometown favourite Jean Frederic Chapuis and his teammate and second-overall qualifier Bastien Midol bounced from competition in the quarter finals, both the victims of daring passes on a course that ofter rewards risk.
Having said all that, Delbosco was for all intents and purposes untouchable on Friday, pulling one fast start after another and generally running away with his first three heats.
That changed dramatically in the final though, as the moustachioed powerhouse Flisar got on Delbosco's tails hard by the middle section of the course and pursued the veteran Canadian mercilessly right through the final jump.
"It was probably one of the most tense full races I've ever been in, because when you're out front (at Val Thorens) you're just a sitting duck," Delbosco said after the race. "I'm really happy with how I skied tactically, I had really good starts, which is great for me, and to be back on the podium with Brady (Leman) is great. Filip's skiing fast too. The three of us have kind of been on a roll."
Leman made some early attempts to surpass Flisar but was stymied as the Slovenian held a strong line from top to bottom. Meanwhile Jonas Devouassoux (FRA), the lone French hopeful to make it through to the big final, found himself pushed to the back early, eventually crashing out of the race as he made a push for the podium while trailing Leman.
And so the first of two this weekend's Val Thorens back-to-back races finished in almost identical fashion to last week's season-opener in Montafon, with Delbosco on top and Flisar and Leman joing him on the podium once again, only with the bottom two positions reversed.
While it's only two races into the season, that powerhouse trio has proven themselves a head above the crowd in 2015/16. While we can expect local hero Jean Frederic Chapius to significantly up his game in a quest to win on home soil for the first time in his World Cup career tomorrow, he and the rest of the field might have their work cut out for them on Saturday.
The second race of the Val Thorens weekend gets going at 13:00 CET on Saturday
Annual highlight Val Thorens up next for Audi ski cross World Cup
Val Thorens, FRA - After an epic Audi ski cross World Cup opening weekend at a brand-new venue in Montafon, Austria, the men and ladies of the SX tour have moved to what has come to be the most iconic venue on the circuit, way up on high in Val Thorens, France.
A venue on the Audi ski cross World Cup for four seasons now - including the 2012/13 season, when the resort played host to the tour on two separate occasions - Val Thorens has established itself as the biggest, baddest, most challenging ski cross course in the world, making it a true highlight every season. Named after Sochi 2014 Olympic champion and Val Thorens' favourite native son Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA), the course at Val Thorens will challenge athletes with everything that makes ski cross great.
Last weekend the French team - last season's ski cross Nations Cup-winning squad - were shut out of the podium in Austria, and you can expect them to be coming into the first of two home events for this season with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder.
As mentioned above, the ski cross course at Val Thorens is named after Jean Fred Chapuis, and all around town his name and image greets visitors from banners, storefronts, and advertisements. Voss 2013 world champion, Sochi 2015 Olympic champion, and 2014/15 World Cup champion, Chapuis has won nearly all there is to win in ski cross, establishing himself as arguably the best in the world while at it.
However, Chapuis has yet to claim victory at his home resort, and one has to assume that this fact weighs on his mind every time he glides under the permanent wooden sign bearing his name on his way to the Val Thorens start gate. With two races in which get the job done this weekend, there's a very good chance Chapuis finally triumphs on his home slope.
Montafon, AUT - Marielle Thompson and Brady Leman lead the way on Friday, topping their respective fields in a strong qualification day for the Canadian squad ahead of Saturday's Audi ski cross World Cup Montafon (AUT).
The top qualifying result for Thompson was especially impressive given that Sochi 2014 gold medalist missed most of last season after injuring her knee at the Kreischberg 2015 world championships. In her first run back in competition, Thompson, wearing bib 13, laid down a time of 58.41 - more than half a second faster than last season's crystal globe winner Anna Holmlund's (SWE) time of 58.96.
Just behind Holmlund was last season's second-overall skier, Alizee Baron (FRA), with a time of 59.87, while world champion and homestown favourite Andrea Limbacher finished qualification in ninth.
Voss 2013 World Champion and 2012/13 crystal globe winner Fanny Smith (SUI) crashed in qualification run, injuring the shoulder she damaged last season. Reports suggest that Smith broke her collarbone and will be out of competition until at least January.
On the men's side of things we saw qualification as tightly-contested as any ever held on the World Cup circuit, with the top 32 men separated by only 1.52 seconds.
Leman was the only skier to break the 56-second barrier on the day, locking in a time of 55.99, just ahead of a surprising performance by Austrian skier Robert Linkler's 56.10 and Victor Oehling Norberg's 56.31. Last year's World Cup overall winner Jean Frederic Chapuis ended qualies in eighth, while 2015 world champion Filip Flisar finished the day in 10th.
Finals action gets underway on the flowing, panoramic Montafon track today at 11:00 CET with the men's round of 32, followed by the ladies' quarter finals. With big crowds expected and a course that has been enthusaistically praised almost unanimously by the athletes on hand, everything is shaping up to make the season-opening Montafon Audi ski cross World Cup event one to remember.
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