Smith and Ridzik on top at Cross Alps Tour stop Montafon

15 December 2017 14:32
Sergey Ridzik (left) wins in Montafon
Sergey Ridzik (left) wins in Montafon -
GEPA Pictures

Montafon (AUT) - After Thursday’s training and qualification round got cancelled due to the persistent storm system that has been hanging over Europe, Friday’s condensed competition schedule at the Audi FIS Ski Cross Alps Tour stop in Montafon (AUT) was a thriller from beginning to end, with Fanny Smith (SUI) and Sergey Ridzik (RUS) walking away with the victories in an entertaining day of ski cross World Cup action.

It was in Montafon at the first race of the 2015/16 season that Fanny Smith crashed, suffering significant shoulder injury that would keep her out of competition for the rest of that season. While Smith would make a strong return to to the ski cross World Cup in 2016/17, finishing the season ranked third overall, she at times looked uncharacteristically tentative, and would fail to record a victory in a non-injury season for the first time since her rookie campaign.

However, on Friday at Montafon Smith once again looked like the skier who captured world championships gold at the Voss 2013 competition, the ski cross crystal globe in the same season, and 10 previous victories in her career, winning both her heats leading up to the big final where she would line up against World Cup leader Sandra Naeslund (SWE), second overall Heidi Zacher (GER), and the resurgent Alizee Baron (FRA).

In the big final Smith would get out of the gate first and maintain her lead through the tricky start section. Naeslund would hound Smith through the top half to no avail, before Zacher caught up to the Swede to make her pursuit of Smith difficult. While Naeslund would nearly pull even with Smith over the hip jump, Naeslund’s line pushed her to the outside, letting Smith cruise to the win and allowing Zacher to slip by and into second. 

Baron’s fourth-place performance was an impressive return to the upper echelon of ski cross in just her second competition back after 20 months away from World Cup competition due to injury.

Combined with her previous Cross Alps Tour victories in Val Thorens and Arosa, Naeslund’s third-place finish ensured she would maintain her Tour and World Cup leads with 260 points. Zacher, with three straight runner-up results to start the season has 240 points, putting her just 20 points back of Naeslund. Canada’s Brittany Phelan sits third on the rankings with 150 points. 


Ridzik earns first career World Cup victory, and second ever for Russia

Russia’s Sergey Ridzik had a day for the ages on Friday in Montafon, taking his first career victory and just the second-ever Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup victory for Russia, doing so in impressive fashion in a big final where he lined up alongside reigning Olympic champion and three-time crystal globe winner Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA), current ski cross World Cup leader Terence Tchiknavorian (FRA), and 20-year-old sensation Erik Mobaerg (SWE). 

Ridzik battled his way through some tough heats on his way to the final, skiing strong lines and staying upright on tricky Montafon course that confounded some of the day’s favourites.

In the finals he showed he meant business from the start, somehow airing the entire first feature and jumping out to an early lead while the French teammates and Mobaerg battled for position behind him.

His biggest moment likely came on the entry to the first banked corner, where Tchiknavorian looked to cut the inside line in a way that could have resulted in disaster. Ridzik, however, was able to hang on and to maintain his speed, sliding back into the lead and picking an unchallengeable line through the rest of the course.

Tchiknavorian would sweep down in second place for his second podium of the season, while Chapuis, coming off his third-straight ski cross crystal globe, would earn his first trip to the podium of the 2017/18 season. With 140 points, Tchiknavorian sits atop the Cross Alps Tour standings, with Ridzik just 11 points back at 129, and Viktor Andersson (SWE) third with 109 points.

Mobaerg’s fourth-place result was the best of his career, and another impressive step for a tenacious young athlete who now has two top-10s in three competitions so far this season.

Because of the cancellation of Thursday’s qualification program and the early 10:30am start for Friday’s competitions, the jury in Montafon elected to go with an expanded heat format on Friday, beginning with a round of 64 men and 32 ladies in head-to-head competition from the get-go. As it turned out, this decision allowed the Cross Alps Tour to avoid what could have been the second full cancellation in four competitions, while also giving fans of ski cross the chance to watch what was a thrilling competition at the sweeping Montafon venue. 

The ski cross world now turns its focus to the longest-running and most historic venue on the World Cup circuit, as back-to-back competitions in Innichen/San Candido (ITA) will close out the 2017 Cross Alps Tour on 21 and 22 December, with the qualification round going down on 20 December.