Naeslund and Drury close out thrilling Sunny Valley weekend with wins

04 March 2018 10:40
Kevin Drury on his way to a career first victory
Kevin Drury on his way to a career first victory -
GEPA Pictures

Sunny Valley (RUS) - After a thrilling competition from start to finish on Saturday, the second of back-to-back Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup competitions in Sunny Valley (RUS) did not disappoint on Sunday, with tighter heats, more incredible passing, and two show-stopping big finals that Sandra Naeslund (SWE) and Kevin Drury (CAN) take the victories.

Dominant Naeslund back on top

As is often the case in back-to-back competitions, the athletes who were strong on day one come back again stronger on day two, and Sunday’s ladies’ big final was a perfect example of this trend, with all four of Saturday’s finalist making it back into the last heat of the weekend for a tense showdown.

While Naeslund finished Saturday’s race in fourth place after crashing out following some contact with Katrin Ofner (AUT), falling off the podium for the first time in 14 competitions, on Sunday the smooth Swede would not be denied, jumping out to an early lead that she would on to through the entirety of the big final.

Which is not to say that it was easy, however, as Saturday’s winner Fanny Smith (SUI) hounded Naeslund from top to bottom of the final heat, never seeming to be more than half a ski length behind Naeslund and even stepping over Naeslund's skis at one point in the race.

Smith maintained her pressure right up until the final straightway, where PyeongChang silver medalist Brittany Phelan (CAN) swung out from behind the Swiss skier and  perfectly timed her press over the final jump to sweep past and into her second-straight second-place finish of the weekend, putting Smith into third and forcing Ofner to settle for fourth-place. 

 

 

“It feels really good to be back on the top of the podium today,” Naeslund said, relieved after the race, “It was really fun racing today, really tight heats, and to come out on top is great. I had a little bit of a better start today and it’s easier for me to run my race from the front. Yesterday I had some stupid tactics and today I was better…with a little bit of luck, also.”

With the victory Naeslund now has 870 points on the season, all but assuring herself of winning not just the ski cross crystal globe (which she locked up way back in January at Nakiska), but also the Freestyle overall globe, which would make for the first time since Ophelie David (FRA) in 2009 that a ski cross athlete has taken the biggest accolade of the World Cup season. 

While Smith maintains her hold of second overall on the ski cross standings with 539 points, Phelan was able to inch closer to that spot, leapfrogging the injured Heidi Zacher into third overall with 489 points. 

With the best overall performance of the weekend for the ladies, Smith was awarded the gold crown that has already become the trademark of the Sunny Valley competitions. 

Drury takes career's first World Cup victory

On the men’s side of things another exceptional competition from start-to-finish saw one of the most exciting and explosive athletes on tour over the past three seasons finally make good on the promise shown, as Canada’s Kevin Drury secured his first World Cup win in his fifth World Cup big final appearance.

While Drury was awarded his first podium via his qualification time in an Arosa (SUI) competition earlier this season where weather forced the cancellation of finals, and earned his first “true” podium in Saturday’s Sunny Valley race, on Sunday he finally took top spot in what was surely a but of sweet redemption after a fourth-place finish at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Drury was able to muscle to the front of the pack by the end of the first set of features to get ahead of Saturday’s Sunny Valley winner Jonas Lenherr (SUI), who has proven himself one of the fastest starters on tour throughout the season. 

From there Drury had Lenherr and his Swiss teammate Armin Niederer hot on his heels through every jump, roller, and bank of the course, with Filip Flisar (SLO) trailing back by a gap that seemed insurmountable, until it wasn’t.

Through the final straight Flisar pulled wide and pumped the rhythm before the final jump perfectly to slice by Niederer and into third place for his first podium of 2017/18. Lenherr would hold on to second place for his second podium in as many days, while Niederer would be denied in his first big final of the season. 

 

 

 

“When I crossed the line in first I just thought ‘Oh my god.’ I had a long steak of making the big finals and coming in fourth, but yesterday I finally made the podium in second and today first…I couldn’t ask for anything more,” a beaming Drury said following the big final, “I kinda ran the same race as yesterday, but the heats were a lot tighter today. The guys were skiing a lot more aggressively. When I got ahead of Jonas (Lenherr) on the first step down I knew I was in a good place, because he’s been killing everyone out of the start. When I took the lead there I knew I just had to ski a clean line, block the inside line, and hope for the best.” 

With the win, Drury moves into third place on the season rankings with 398 points, putting him well within striking distance of both second-overall Jean Frederic Chapuis’ (FRA) 403 points, and World Cup leader Marc Bischofberger’s 462 points.

By trading first and second-place results, Drury and Lenherr were the co-winners of the men’s Sunny Valley crown. How the two will decide who gets which half has yet to be determined.

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