Mueller and Matt triumph in Val Thorens
VAL THORENS, FRA – Under the looming peaks of the highest resort in the Alps and on an imposing, technical track, the best ski cross racers in the world put on an incredible show at the Audi FIS Freestyle Val Thorens ski cross World Cup over the course of this past weekend.
Ladies' qualification on Saturday was a fairly straightforward affair, as aside from some flat light and the Val Thorens course's tough features, the ladies had little to battle aside from each other's times. Sanna Luedi (SUI), who returned to the World Cup this season after a year off due to injury, was the quickest in the time trial, and behind her lined up nearly all of the top ladies in the tour.
Men's qualification, however, was an entirely different affair, as the cloud cover that had been present in the ladies' qualifications broke, changing the light and changing the consistency of the snow with each progressive racer. As a result, the track got faster and faster over the course of qualifications, and most of the biggest names found themselves on the outside of the top 32 looking in. By the time it was all said and done, only four of the top 16 ranked skiers in the world would be starting in the next day's finals.
One of those skiers was the imposing Andreas Matt (SUI), who had laid down what turned out to be a masterful qualifying run on Saturday, taking the top position despite starting with bib number 24. For reference, no one else with a bib numbered 30 or higher qualified in the top 10, making Matt's run an impressive statement for a skier who has struggled somewhat in recent memory.
On Sunday, the big Austrian then made a bigger statement, winning every one of his heats on his way to the finals, and then in those finals making a stunning pass on hometown hero Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) with only two turns remaining to move from 3rd to 2nd. He then proceeded to catch Victor Oehling Norberg over the last jump and out-reach him across the line in a photo finish to claim the win.
Chapuis was able to just fend off Franz Promok (AUS) at the line to claim 3rd and thrill the crowd who had gathered to watch the speedy Frenchman race on his home slope.
(On a pretty incredible side-note, Andy's older brother Mario won the Val D'Isere World Cup slalom on Sunday. The stars were aligned this weekend for the Matts.)
The ladies' race too was a burner from start to finish, with daring passes and near-misses in almost every heat. And at the end of the day, it was one of the most daring ladies on tour standing on top of the podium, as Katrin Mueller laid down a spectacular final run to claim her the second victory of her career.
Mueller is inarguably one of the fastest ladies on tour, but too often her speed sends her off course and out of heats. On Sunday, however, on a course that was clearly to her tastes, that speed was in full control and on full display.
After a slow start that saw her fall to 4th out of the gate, Mueller got to work reeling in the strong field ahead of her, including Marte Hoeje Gjefsen (NOR), crowd favourite Ophelie David (FRA), and Swiss countrywoman Sanna Luedi (SUI). One-by-one Mueller picked off her competitors through the middle section of the race, followed closely by Luedi who made a slick pass on David to move into 2nd. David managed to hold on to 3rd to give the French crowd two athletes on the podium for the day. Gjefsen took 4th.
From Val Thorens, the Audi FIS Freestyle ski cross World Cup tour moves to Innichen/San Candido, ITA, for back-to-back races in the Dolomites on December 21-22, before taking a break for the holidays.
MUELLER, Katrin (SUI) - “I was skiing really well in training, but then yesterday in qualifying I was all over the place. I felt like a different person. Today I came out and I just said to myself, 'I'm going to have fun today.' And this course is really my style so I was able to relax and just ski and I'm really happy with how I did. I came from 4th into 1st in the final, which is incredible. Today was perfect.”
MATT, Andreas (AUT) - “I'm really happy to win this race today, and happy to be back on the podium. Last year was tough for me, I had some things going on, little things, but I didn't ski well. This summer I trained differently and lost some kilos and I feel good on my skis again. This win feels good.”
CHAPUIS, Jean Frederic (FRA) - “I was in 2nd, and on the negative turn I tried to make a move to pass Victor Oehling (Norberg, SWE), but instead I made a bit of a mistake and let Andy pass me. I'm happy to have 3rd but hopefully I can be better next race. I think I'm skiing well. Hopefully I can hold on to the red (leader's) bib for a while.”
FULL LADIES' RESULTS CAN BE FOUND HERE
FULL MEN'S RESULTS CAN BE FOUND HERE
LADIES' RACE VIDEO CAN BE FOUND HERE
MEN'S RACE VIDEO CAN BE FOUND HERE
PHOTOS OF THE RACE CAN BE DOWNLOADED FREE OF CHARGE HERE