Holmlund and Fiva win in Val Thorens
Val Thorens, FRA - The second of back-to-back competitions to kick off the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup season, took to the endlessly sunny slopes of France’s Val Thorens on Saturday, with Anna Holmlund (SWE) getting a win in the ladies’ event and Alex Fiva (SUI) climbing to the top of the podium for the first time in almost three years.
Competition ended in crushing disappointment for the Swedish squad in the previous day’s ladies' competition, as Holmlund and her teammate Sandra Naelsund got tangled up while battling for the lead into the final corner, taking them both out of the race.
Holmlund, however, has not been the ski cross crystal globe winner for the past two seasons for no reason, and she bounced back in convincing fashion, only really getting challenged when Marielle Thompson (CAN) nearly landed on her tails in the semifinal, resulting in Thompson - yesterday’s winner - getting knocked out finishing in third in the heat.
In the big final it was again Holmlund and Naeslund who took to the front early and stayed there. Behind them, 20 year old German upstart Daniella Maier - competing in her first big final - and Canadian veteran Kesley Serwa locked into a back-and-forth battle for third.
Holmlund and Naeslund once again went into the final turn separated by less than a meter, but this time there would be no fireworks, as Holmlund held off young Naeslund to take the victory and top spot on the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup leaderboard, while the speedy Maier took her first career podium.
Combined the men’s athletes, the Swedish squad took home five podiums in the two Val Thorens races.
“We’re a small team, only five skiers, so to get five podiums means we’re putting on a great performance. And my good friend Fiva wins (in the men’s race), so it’s a great day.”
The first-time World Cup podium winner Maier, meanwhile, still seemed to be in shock following the awards ceremony.
“I never though I would get on the World Cup podium. I trained very hard this summer and I spent some time with a mental coach to get over the nervousness I had last season in the start gate. Now I know that even if my start is not good, I can still get out there and get back in the fight.”
Fiva holds off surging Leman for first victory since 2014
Alex Fiva - one of the tour veterans and one of the most well-liked and well-respected athletes on the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup - proved he’s still got what it takes, fending off charges from all sides on his way to his first World Cup win since March 2014.
After yesterday’s winner Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) the door was wide open for the rest of the field. However, with the likes of Armin Niederer (SUI), Christoph Wahrstoetter (AUT), Brady Leman (CAN) and a handful of others all absolutely charging the Val Thorens course, it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone.
In the end, it came down to Fiva, Leman, Wahstoetter, and Viktor Andersson (SWE). On his way to the final Andersson was the recipient of not one, but two gifts of good luck when skiers ahead of him crashed out to give him a free pass through, including a semi final heat where Andersson himself went down near the top of the course, only to collect himself and blow by Niederer and Sebastian Lepage (FRA) after they both crashed, giving him a berth in his second career big final.
In the end though, Fiva would prevail, with an early lead that Leman wouldn’t be able to overcome. For a moment it looked like Andersson would take second after passing Leman on the negative, but in the final turn Leman was able to reel him back in hold on to second place, with Andersson in third and Wahstoetter in fourth.
“It’s a long time since I was on top,” said Fiva, the 2012/13 ski cross crystal globe winner, “but to get a win in the second race of the season, at Val Thorens where I’ve never been very good, it’s really special for me. And now to be sitting on top of the World Cup and especially to be sitting in front on the Cross Alps Tour - it’s a great boost for our sport and I’m happy to be leading it right now.”
Leman, meanwhile, wasn’t lamenting a missed opportunity at a win he desperately wanted.
“It took some of my best skiing to come in second today. I didn’t have the best start in the finals and when you’re up against someone skiing like Alex was it’s going to be tough no matter what, so I’m happy with second, for sure.”
From Val Thorens, the Cross Alps Tour now jumps quickly over to Arosa (SUI), for a first-of-its-kind nighttime sprint event on Tuesday