Holmlund and Delbosco on top heading into Innichen/San Candido stop on Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup
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.
GEPA Pictures photos from last weekend's Val Thorens event (for editorial use)