Chapuis and Thompson triumph in ski cross season opener
Val Thorens, FRA - The first competition of a new season - and the first competition of a new tour - took to the storied slopes of Val Thorens (FRA) on Friday, as the newly-launched Cross Alps Tour opener kicked off the 2016/17 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup on Friday afternoon.
With a new course line for this season’s Val Thorens competition throwing difficult, technical turns at the skiers through the course’s middle section, competition on Friday saw some extremely tight racing, with some spectacular passing, some unfortunate crashes, and jaw-dropping finishes as Marielle Thompson (CAN) and Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) scored season-opening victories.
There were some incredible moments through the ladies’ competition on Friday, including a photo finish involving Thompson and her teammate Kelsey Serwa that was determined to be the rarest of cases - an absolute tie. With the rule book stating that the higher-ranked skier from qualification is to proceed in such a case, Thompson found herself through to the big final while Serwa was relegated to the small.
In the big final it was top qualifier Anna Holmlund (SWE) out in front from the start and through the majority of the length of the Val Thorens’, with her young teammate Sandra Naeslund shadowing her every move, Thompson stuck in third, and Fanny Smith (SUI) - in her first race back after missing all of last season with an injury - losing ground in the rear.
Through the majority of the ladies’ final it was looking like a huge 1-2 finish for the Swedish duo. However it all fell apart on the last corner of the race as Naeslund, looking to pass, caught up to Holmlund and the two teammates ran shoulder-to-shoulder towards the final turn, before some minor contact saw Holmlund bounced out of her line and outside of a gate. After missing the gate, Holmlund veered back onto the track and crashed first into Naeslund, then into the safety netting - and out of the race.
Thompson and Smith slid by the pile-up and into first and second, respectively, while Naeslund would be awarded third place due to Holmlund’s missed gate.
“I came over that final step-down and just saw them crashing into each other,” Thompson said of the mishap that would hand her the race, “I didn’t know what was going to happen so I just tried to avoid all the people and get the win. That’s ski cross, sometimes. You get caught up with people and you crash.
“I would have been happy with the third, but a win is even better.”
Naeslund, for her part, wasn’t angry at her teammate Holmlund for taking away what might have been her first career World Cup victory.
“It’s happened before,” Naeslund said of getting mixed up with Holmlund, “I know that she’s not trying to hurt me or anything like that. I don’t know…maybe I just need to get better at passing her.”
Chapuis triumphs on his home course once again
The ski cross course in Val Thorens was named after Jean Frederic Chapuis after his win at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, and on Friday the town’s favourite son proved once again that he owns the track bearing his name, winning every heat on his way to the big final before holding off his French teammate Sylvain Miaillier, Victor Oehling Norberg, and a hard-charging Chris Delbosco (CAN) for the win at the first contest of the season.
Delbsco was hot on Chapuis’ heel through the majority of the race, before miscalculating his entry to Val Thorens’ famous negative turn and getting passed by Miaillier. Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE), the fourth skier in the heat, also nearly overtook Delbsco, but the Canadian was able to hold on through the finish.
However, officials put the run under review, and after several tense minutes it was determined that Delbosco straddled the gate heading into the negative turn, resulting in his run being designated a “Did Not Finish”, dropping him into fourth, and giving Oehling Norberg the third place podium.
“I know that Chris had a really good start,” said Chapuis of facing Delbsco in the big final, “When I got out of the gate first I was saying to myself ‘Push as hard as you can,’ because on the flats he is maybe better than me. When I was still first after the long flat I though, ‘Ok, take your best line and see what happens.”
“I’m so happy to win here at home in Val Thorens. I feel like this is the best gift I can give to all the workers and the volunteers who make this race happen. Every year it gets better and bigger and I’m so happy to be able to be able to perform for the people here.”
With the first race of the Cross Alps tour in the bag, the standings are as straightforward as can be, with Thompson and Chapuis both sitting in the drivers seat of the Tour and the World Cup. however, Saturday is another day, and with the second of the back-to-back Val Thorens competitions set to get underway at 11:00CET, things could look very much different less than 24 hours from now.
GEPA Pictures photos (for editorial use)