Holmlund and Flisar prevail in thrilling Idre Fjall event
IDRE FJALL, SWE - Steady snow and some wild, pass-filled racing made for a thrilling day at the inaugural Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup in Idre Fjall (SWE) on Saturday, as the first of the weekend’s back-to-back races saw Swedish heroes Anna Holmlund and Sandra Naeslund take first and third place in the ladies race, while Filip Flisar (SLO) took his first victory of the season in men’s competition.
Weather has been challenging all week, with strong winds forcing the cancellation of Friday’s qualification rounds and necessitating an adjusted finals format that saw men’s competition begin with 64 men and 32 ladies.
While most of the favourites made it through the prelims, there were some notable exceptions, including Canadians Brady Leman and Kelsey Serwa, both of whom were coming off wins at late-January’s X Games.
The snow caused problems for all athletes, notably for the lighter, smaller ladies. An early lead meant that an athlete was only clearing snow and creating a draft for those behind, and last-minute passes through the final drag strip happened in nearly every heat.
Still, some of the ladies clearly asserted themselves, with Alize Baron (FRA) and Marielle Thompson (CAN) showing good confidence on their way to joining Holmlund and Naeslund in the big final.
There, Holmlund took the lead out of the gate, with Thompson falling back to fourth and Baron and Naeslund battling for position between the two. However, through the course's second turn and into the tough negative corner Thompson overtook both ladies and putting herself hot on Holmlund’s heels.
Through the extended final straightaway Naeslund pulled well ahead of Baron and reeled in Thompson, passing her briefly before Thompson out-pumped Naeslund over the final rollers before out-reaching her across the line to secure second place. Baron settled for fourth place, making for her ninth-straight top-10 on the season.
It was Holmlund's fourth victory in 2015/16, and her eighth podium in nine events on the season. Incredibly, she still has yet to miss a big final this season.
“It’s pretty stressful to be in the lead on this course today,” Holmlund said. “It was tough conditions, but it was the same for everybody, and I’m really happy I was able to hold it together across the line. It was the second time this year Sandra and I have shared a podium, and I think that shows that we’ve got one of the best teams on the World Cup, even if we are only five skiers.”
In the men’s competition, Flisar showed remarkable speed throughout a day when so many skiers found themselves eliminated at the last minute.
Flisar was never passed on Saturday, winning all of his heats on his way to a final that saw him matched up against Chris Delbosco (CAN), Christoph Wahrstoetter (AUT), and Bastien Midol (FRA) as the snow eased off and the sun began to break through.
Out of the gate in the big final Flisar was shoulder-to-shoulder with Delbosco, while Wahrstotter fell back to fourth place behind Midol.
However, Wahrstoetter, who was responsible for several heartbreaks on the day with several incredible passes, was at it again, and blew by both Midol and Delbosco and on to Flisar’s tails in the second turn.
Into the final straight, Delbosco carried incredible speed out of the jumps, passing Wahrstoetter and nearly catching Flisar, only to case one of the rollers and slow his momentum. With Midol creeping up on his left and Wahrstotter to his right, Delbosco held on and finished second to Flisar, with Wahrstoetter taking third in one of the closest photo finishes on a day when there were 15 of them.
The win was Flisar’s first of the season, and his first podium since he had a third-place and a second-place result to start 2015/16. For Delbsco as well it was a return to the podium after several disappointing results, giving the Canadian squad two runner-up performances on the day. Wahrstoetter, meanwhile, claimed his first podium in nearly two years after missing all of last season due to injury.
“I started off the season really well, but then I had some struggles in the last few races,” Flisar said of the path his season has taken, “I was skiing good, but I was maybe a little bit unlucky. But finally I’m back here on the podium. I got the one step on the podium I didn’t have yet this year and it feels really good.”
On the ladies’ side, Holmlund furthered her commanding lead on the ski cross and FIS Freestyle overall World Cup standings, and her 770 points has her 263 points clear of Thompson’s 507. Thompson’s second place result vaulted her over Baron and into second behind Holmlund.
For the men, Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) continues to lead the World Cup rankings despite his 17th place finish on the day, and he now sits 114 points clear of second overall Leman, with 584 points to Leman’s 470. Delbosco remains in third with 433 points, just 36 shy of his teammate Leman.
Action in Idre Fjall continues on Sunday with the same program as Saturday’s competition, with prelims starting at 10:30 CET, followed by finals at 12:30.