Holmlund and Delbosco triumph in Val Thorens
The first of this weekend's back-to-back races in Val Thorens (FRA) on the Audi FIS ski cross World Cup tour took place on Friday on the grueling Jean Frederic Chapuis course, with Anna Holmlund (SWE) taking the 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.
On Friday, all three of those ladies' made their way 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 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 is 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 took 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 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.
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 moustached 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 if you're out front 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.”
While it's only two races into the season, that trio has proven themselves a head above the crowd. While we can expect Chapius to significantly up his game in a quest to win on home soil for the first time in his career tomorrow, he and the rest of the field might have their work cut out for them on Saturday.
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 as Montafon, with Delbosco on top and Flisar and Leman joining him on the podium once again, only with the bottom two positions reversed.
The second race of the Val Thorens weekend gets going at 13:00 CET on Saturday.