Duncan and Smith gut it out for wins in Innichen/San Candido
INNICHEN/SAN CANDIDO, ITA – The first of back-to-back Audi ski cross World Cup races slated for the weekend took to the slopes of Sud Tyrol's Innichen/San Candido on Saturday, as part of a massive FIS Freestyle week to end off the 2013-14 calender year.
Coming off last week's race at Val Thorens, FRA, where huge jumps and sweeping turns were the order of the day, the set-up at Innichen may at first blush seem somewhat sedate. However, while things are built to a less grand scale than they were in Val Thorens, the Innichen course offers its own set of challenges for some of the world's best all-around skiers, with tight turns and tricky jumps forcing a more technical, cagey approach to racing.
The day saw some incredible passing throughout the heats, as well as a number of crashes. While most of these were minor, there was a scary moment when Bastien Midol (FRA) went into the final jump off balance and back in his skis. As he came off the lip he drifted backwards and came down hard on his head and back, but was speaking and moving when medical crews got to him.
From there the race proceeded more or less on schedule. In the ladies' heats, top qualifier Marielle Thompson (CAN) looked like the one to beat for much of the day, until in her semi-final run she lost a ski and slid off course. Thompson would go on to win the small final, though she would be forced to do so without another piece of equipment, as her pole came off in the start gate, leaving her with just one for the entirety of the race.
The ladies' big final saw a stacked heat, featuring last week's winner Katrin Mueller (SUI), 2013 world champion and crystal globe winner Fanny Smith (SUI), San Candido favorite and 2011 world champion Kelsey Serwa (CAN), and one-time crystal globe winner Anna Holmlund, making a triumphant return to racing after missing almost a year due to a knee injury.
Out of the gate it was Smith and Serwa neck-and-neck for several turns, before Smith managed to let her skis run a little cleaner into one corner and pull ahead. From there, the two leaders were never more than a few meters from each other, with Holmlund lurking close behind, but Smith was able to hold on for the win. It was the first podium for Serwa since returning from knee surgery at the start of the season on a track that she specializes in, while for Holmlund a podium so soon back from her injury may spell trouble for the rest of the field, as she looked supremely confident throughout the day. Kathrin Mueller took forth and continues to look strong in 2013-14.
Men's competition saw David Duncan (CAN) capture the first win of his career in a gutsy, emotional finish for the veteran of 50 World Cup races. Duncan qualified in 2nd on Friday, but a string of mediocre results in his previous events did not have the odds turned in his favour come race day. Duncan, however, was able to prove any naysayers wrong, generally dominating two of his three heats from start to finish, only to do the same in a big final that included last year's number one and two ranked skiers in Alex Fiva (SUI) and Armin Niederer (SUI), as well as Duncan's teammate and last year's fifth overall skier Brady Leman (CAN).
Duncan was a rocket out of the gate, going cheek to cheek with Fiva who had proven himself probably the strongest starter on the day by battling all the way to the final despite qualifying in 27th position. Duncan was able to out-pump Fiva in the rollers, though, and grab the lead, fending off challenge after challenge on his way to the win.
Behind Duncan, his teammate Leman made one of the best passes of the day on Niederer just before the big negative turn to jump into 3rd, before drafting up beside Fiva at the line. A photo finish revealed that Fiva held on to 2nd place by a only a finger, just averting would have been a 1-2 result for the Canadians.
Round two of the big Innichen/San Candido weekend is set to go tomorrow, with a full day of qualifications and finals to get in before the Audi FIS Freestyle ski cross World Cup tour breaks for the holidays.
SMITH Fanny (SUI) - “I didn't really take the easy way today, but I love when it's like that. When you win like that it's more satisfying, because you do so much to get it. You DO ski cross. I skied really well. I didn't panic when I wasn't in 1 or 2, I took it easy, took some speed, and made passes.”
“I needed to get a little revenge. Val Thorens (FRA, last week's race) was really cool and it was a course I really liked a lot, but I didn't do well and I was a bit sad. But now it's good.”
DUNCAN David (CAN) - “I can't even use words now. This is a long time coming. It's absolutely incredible to get this first win off my shoulders. I've been wanting this for so long, even more since Nik (Zoricic) passed. We were both searching for our first win together and it took a couple years after he passed for me to get it, but man does this feel good. I hope he's watching today because this is absolutely incredible.”
“I've been skiing fast all summer and fall. The first two races this season weren't what I had been doing all summer, but I knew if I stuck with what I was doing this day was going to come. I've been skiing fast in training and everything and today I was just able to put it together at the right time.”
“I've spent a lot of time in finals but never got this win. I'm glad I finally got that monkey off my back.”
Sunday's finals from Innichen/San Candido are set to go at 13:30CET.
Ladies' results can be found HERE
Men's results can be found HERE
Highlights from the ladies' race can be found HERE
Highlights from the men's race can be found HERE