Limbacher and Oehling Norberg head into holiday break with wins in Italy
Innichen/San Candido, ITA – In what was likely the most dramatic, thrilling competition seen in the seven-year history of the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup Innichen/San Candido, reigning world champion Andrea Limbacher (AUT) and the resurgent Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE) were able to stand tall at the end of an exhausting weekend and claim the respective ladies' and men's victories on Sunday.
The second of back-to-back races on the weekend, Sunday's event was an entirely different beast than what was witnessed on Saturday.
Whether it was some minor changes to the course that were implemented by officials and the world-class organizing team, the athletes' familiarity with the demanding Innichen/San Candido track after five days of memorizing its quirks, or some combination of the two, Sunday's race was one of the most hotly-contested, pass-filled events seen at any venue on the World Cup tour in recent memory.
There were nine photo finishes recorded on the day, including one in the ladies' big final in which it was tough to tell which hand belonged to which athlete in the battle for second.
That ladies' final saw Anna Holmlund (SWE), the ladies' World Cup leader and second-place finisher on Saturday, lined up against Limbacher, Kelsey Serwa (CAN), and Alizee Baron (FRA) in a match-up that featured three world champions and one of the hottest skiers on the French team in Baron.
With Serwa and Holmlund holding nine previous Innichen/San Candido podiums between them, it seemed like it would be tough work for the other ladies to establish themselves on Sunday. However, that's not entirely how it turned out.
Holmund was first out of the gate in the final, but within seconds a small edge-hook resulted in her being passed by Serwa and Limbacher into the first turn. Serwa was than able to pull momentarily into the lead, only to be passed Baron and Limbacher on the next corner.
From there it was a dizzying sequences of passes, with Limbacher eventually moving into the lead and Baron dropping back to third and Holmlund hot on her tails in fourth.
Holmlund looked to have the speed to take Baron off the podium, but a mistimed pass attempt killed her momentum and she was forced to watch from the back as the other three ladies sped towards the finish line. It was there that Baron launched one last assault on Serwa's position, resulting in a photo finish that eventually went to the Canadian.
For Limbacher, it was her first career podium in Innichen/San Candido, and her first World Cup victory in nearly three years.
“It's so awesome here to race,” an understandably thrilled Limbacher said from the finish area, “It's so much fun. I'm so happy I was able to make those passes in the final and get the victory here. I was in a good battle with Kelsey and Alizee there. This is the special thing about ski cross – woman against woman – it's so much fun. Just a perfect day.”
The men's big final was no less dramatic, with Saturday's winner Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) lined up alongside his teammate Sylvain Miaillier, Alex Fiva (SUI), and Oehling Norberg, with the four athletes pulling out of the start gate and heading through the first two corners in a pack that miraculously didn't end a crash.
However, Chapuis was close to going down, getting on one ski after going side-by-side with Fiva into corner two. Somehow he was able to hold a line though, dropping only into third as Oehling Norberg opened up a sizable gap in the lead.
Never out of a race, Chapuis would soon return the favour to Fiva, diving in low on the big Swiss skier through a right turn and forcing Fiva to the outside. And, with the window opened up by Chapuis' pass, Miaillier was able to follow his teammate around Fiva and into third.
While Chapuis was able to close the gap on Oehling Norberg, it was too little, too late, and the Swedish skier crossed the line for his first victory and first podium of the season.
It was an inspired effort for Oehling Norberg, who was forced to withdraw from the season's first event in Montafon due to serious back spasms and then missed the next two races in Val Thorens, France, as he recovered. Add in the fact that he was up nearly all of Sunday night with a stomach flu, and his performance becomes even more incredible.
“It's been tough, for sure,” he explained of his last several weeks, “In Montafon after I hurt my back I was almost thinking about quitting this, thinking I'm getting so tired of this back problem and I just want to be healthy. But I got the best support I've ever had, such good training to get my back better for this race, and to win is an unbelievable feeling.”
“Once I got out front I just knew, 'They're coming for me, they're coming for me,' and I just tried to ski as fast as I could," he went on, explaining the final heat, "But in the middle of the course all of a sudden I couldn't hear anything behind me. I wanted to turn and look but instead I just kept it pointed.”
Chapuis and Miailler would cross in second and third respectively, making for the third straight podium for Chapuis and giving him the red bib as the World Cup leader, overtaking Chris Delbosco (CAN). On the ladies' side, Anna Holmlund remained comfortably atop the standings, sitting nearly 150 points clear of Alizee Baron.
The Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup will now break for the holidays, returning to action in early January with competition scheduled for a new stop on the tour in Watles, Italy, from the 9th-10th.