Naeslund and Delbosco shine in day one at Val Thorens
Val Thorens (FRA) - The 2017/18 Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup got off to a spectacular on Thursday in Val Thorens (FRA), where the first competition of the 2017 Cross Alps Tour saw Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund and Canada’s Chris Delbosco claim the season’s first victories on a perfect sculpted course under endless sunny skies.
Thursday’s competition, the first of two slated for this week in Val Thorens, was originally scheduled for Friday, but was moved forward by one day in anticipation of a large winter storm forecast to move in on Thursday evening. Though this limited training down to days, the jury’s decision appeared to be the right one, as the perfect weather overhead and strong skiing throughout the field made for a memorable day.
Ladies’ winner Naeslund came into Thursday’s race as the odds-on favourite, coming off a 2016/17 season where she finished second overall to the currently-injured Marielle Thompson and won gold at the Sierra Nevada 2017 FIS Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard World Championships. Qualifying in second place by just .01, Naeslund proceeded to win her quarter and semifinal heats in convincing fashion before making to the big final, where she would find herself lined up alongside Germany’s Heidi Zacher, and a pair of Canadians in Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan.
Naeslund would pull out to an early lead and fight off some early challenges from Zacher and Serwa before taking control in the middle of the course and pulling through the bottom third for an impressive win on the course where she claimed her first career podium back in 2013/14.
“It was a tough day with tight heats,” said Naeslund after the awards ceremony, “You had to be on it from start to finish, otherwise someone was going to pass you. But I had good runs and made a few good moves and it took me to the win. It’s really nice to start the season out like this, and now I’ve got to just keep on going.”
Zacher’s second-place result was her first podium in 10 tries at Val Thorens, while Serwa scored her first podium in nearly two years with her third-place result.
Delbosco shines in return to top spot
Over on the men’s side, Chris Delbsoco’s winning performance was an especially impressive one on a day when many of the Audi ski cross World Cup’s top athletes made mistakes, crashed out, or got taken out on some of the big Val Thorens course’s tough features.
Being out front of the pack was almost a course for many skier throughout the day, especially through the lower section of the course, but Delbosco was able to hold it together and hold off the hounds like no one else on the day, winning all three of his heats leading up to a big final where he would face down Jonas Lenherr of Switzerland and the French pair of Arnaud Bovolenta and Terence Tchiknavorian.
Delbosco seemed to have the best feel for the course of any athlete on the day, so while wasn’t the fastest out of the gate in the big final, he was able to pull his way to the front by nailing the Val Thorens course’s tricky top section. Once there, he kept it calm and smooth while the three other men battled and traded positions behind him, crossing the line in first for his first victory in almost exactly two years, and his third career win at Val Thorens.
"I had two horrible days of training before today, just couldn't get it dialed in," a smiling Delbosco said, "But I kinda put it together for qualifying, but once I was in the race, from that first run, I was feeling good. It's tough being out front here, you've gotta protect your lines and that affects your exit speeds out of the turns, but I just kept battling and got the win. I'm super stoked."
"I was injured halfway through last season but I rode it to the end and had surgery when it was all over," Delbosco went on, "So I only got back on snow three weeks ago and just got back up to speed quick. But I like doing it like that. I knew I'd be ready, and I was."
Though the host French squad were pinning much of their hopes on Val Thorens’ local Jean Frederic Chapuis and top qualifier Francois Place, seeing both fan-favourite Bovolenta and Tchiknavorian on the podium was sweet satisfaction on Thursday as the pair finished second and third, respectively.
For Bovolenta, the Sochi 2014 Olympic silver medallist, Thursday’s result marked an impressive return to competition after the burly racer missed the final competitions of 2016/17 due to a knee injury suffered after crossing the finish line for his first career victory in Sunny Valley (RUS) last season.
For Tchiknavorian, meanwhile, the third-place result was his first career podium, coming in his 53rd World Cup competition. Should Tchiknavorian be able to build on his strong season opener the already strong French team will be looking very fearsome indeed though the 2017/18 season.
With the forecasted bad weather set to hit Val Thorens on Thursday evening, Friday will be an off-day for the competitors in hopes that the snow rolls through and the Cross Alps Tour can get back to competition on Saturday. With six total competitions spread across four resorts through 16 days of December, the Cross Alps Tour’s tight, demanding schedule leaves little room for rescheduling from here on out. However, with some luck the Tour can stick to what is an exceptionally exciting programme.
- Full Val Thorens Audi FIS Ski Cross Alps Tour Thursday data and results
- Ladies’ video highlights
- Men’s video highlights
- GEPA Pictures photos (for editorial use only)
- Saturday Val Thorens programme
- Saturday live timing, results, and data
- Saturday TV exposure
- Val Thorens course map