Baron and Oehling Norberg triumph in technical Audi ski cross World Cup Åre
ARE, SWE – One of the most exciting FIS Freestyle competitions of the year went down on Saturday, at the first of two Audi ski cross World Cup races in Are, Sweden, as Alize Baron (FRA) won the first race of her career in a thrilling ladies' final and Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE) took his third straight victory in front of his home crowd on the men's side.
With top qualifier and local favourite Anna Holmlund (SWE) out of the running after missing a gate in the quarter finals, the ever dangerous Fanny Smith (SUI) crashing out near the start in her semi final heat, and Ophelie David (FRA) unable to advance from her semi heat, the way was clear for one of the less-obvious ladies to make a statement on the technical Are course.
As it turned out, Baron, Katrin Ofner (AUT), and world champion Andrea Limbacher (AUT) took turns making statements in a ladies' final that saw nearly a half-dozen lead changes, as these three tough competitors fought tooth and nail through one of the most exciting final heats in ski cross memory.
With Baron, Ofner, and Limbacher all taking different lines through the steep negative turn near the bottom of the course, it was impossible to tell who would take the lead into the final drag strip to the finish.
Coming over the final roller, the top three ladies were in a bunch, before Baron was somehow able to accelerate the quickest from the outside line and power her way across the finish with Ofner and Limbacher hot on her tail.
A nearly speechless Baron tried to sum up what happened for her in the spectacular ladies' final.
“I had a good start, but then I was second, third, second, first, and against these strong girls – Katrin is very fast – and...I don't know. I don't have a word. I just tried to think, 'I'm fast, I'm fast, I'm fast' and stay ahead.”
Yulia Livinskaya (RUS) continued what has been a strong couple of weeks for the Russian squad, rounding our the big final with a fourth place-place finish.
Despite her crash, Smith's eventual eighth-place result was just enough to vault her above Holmlund for the ladies' ski cross World Cup lead.
While Holmlund's tough break put a damper on the Swedish crowd in the early going, by the end of the men's competition they would nonetheless have two podium results to celebrate, with Victor Oehling Norberg skiing like a man possessed on the way to his third straight victory and Michael Forslund following the lead of his impressive teammate all the way to his first ever World Cup podium.
The two teammates went head-to-head through all three of their heats on the way to the final, with Forslund actually besting Oehling Norberg in their quarter final heat that included a huge pass from the World Cup leader to advance to the next round.
In the finals, Oehling Norberg and Forslund were matched up against another pair of red-hot teammates, as Jean-Frederic Chapuis and Bastien Midol were both coming off solid results from last week's race in Arosa and were both skiing some crafty lines on their march to the big final.
In the final, Oehling Norberg shot out of the start gate straight into what looked like it might be a dominant lead, only to have Chapuis quickly reel him in and latch on to his tails. Chapuis shadowed Oehling Norberg through the entirety of the twisting Are course before setting himself up for a last-ditch pass attempt over the final roller.
The Frenchman got within half a ski of taking the lead, only for Oehling Norberg to step back on the gas and fly across the line for the win.
“It's amazing,” said the man who calls Are home, from the finish, “I actually can't put into words this feeling right now. It's crazy. It feels so easy for me to ski right now. Well, actually, this morning I didn't feel good, my stomach, and I couldn't focus in the start. But the more runs I got in the more focused I got.
“In the final I knew I had Chapuis behind me. I could feel him right next to me. And it's so stressful to have Chapuis behind you because he's a very technical skier, and this is the most technical course I've ever ridden. It was stressful but I'm really happy with the result.”
Forslund's third-place result, his first World Cup podium, coming on home soil in front of his many supporters, was sweet redemption for an athlete who has suffered through a myriad of injuries over the past several seasons. Factor in the daring outside pass he made in the final on Midol to achieve his result and you have a sweet day for the host squad, indeed.
Action from Are gets back underway tomorrow with a full schedule of qualifications and finals, with the ladies' quali runs getting underway at 10:00 CET and finals set for 14:00.