Thompson and Delbosco lead the way in big day for Canadian ski cross squad
Montafon, AUT – From the outset it seemed likely that the season-opening Audi ski cross World Cup event at the new venue in Montafon, Austria, was going to be an explosive way to launch the 2015/16 season.
The sweeping, rhythmic course that builders organizers were able to put together despite minimal natural snow and unfavourable weather impressed all athletes and trainers upon arrival, as did the picturesque views and strong local support for the event.
Then, when qualifications saw all 32 men register times within 1.52 seconds of each other, and saw three of the four favourite on the ladies side qualify in the top three spots, it became clear that this new World Cup stop would be a true showcase for the best aspects of the sport.
On Saturday, under clear blue skies, the Montafon race played out better than could have been hoped for, with hard-fought battles, incredible passing, and a dream start to the season for the Canadian squad as Marielle Thompson and Chris Delbosco took the wins in the ladies' and men's races respectively and Brady Leman claimed second for the men.
It was Thompson's first race since injuring her knee at the Kreischberg 2015 world championships last February, but you wouldn't know that from watching her performance on Saturday. After dominating the qualifications – leading second qualifier Anna Holmlund (SWE) by .55 seconds and third qualifier Alizee Baron (FRA) by an incredible 1.46 – Thompson looked strong and confident through Saturday, engaging in battles and making passes where necessary to win every heat on her to the victory.
Her biggest move of the day came in the big final, where she trailed Holmlund through the middle section of the course before making a pass out of the banked fifth turn and pulling away through the final stretch. Crossing the finish line comfortable in first, with Holmlund and local star Katrin Ofner (AUT) taking second and third respectively, Thompson had announced that she was back.
“I didn't get quite as a good a start as Anna (Holmlund) there, but I knew there were lots of places to pass and there had been lots of passes all day,” Thompson explained of the big final, “I knew the last two banks were running really fast, so I switched it up from my planned line and slingshotted out of turn four into turn five and passed her there. I was super stoked that my patience paid off.”
It was a gutsy move from an athlete just back from injury, and Thompson acknowledged that she wasn't certain she would be able to step right back into top form so early in the season.
“I mean, I always go out there to win, but also I was just kind of happy to be in the final. But from the first training day, when I saw my transponder times and knew I could be fast out there, it was nice today to go out there and confirm that.”
While Thompson's win validated her rehab regimen and restated her case as “best in the world,” for her counterpart Chris Delbosco on the men's side Saturday's win was sweet redemption after a tough couple of seasons that saw him ski well without reaping any of the rewards.
“This summer I kind of just went back to the kind of training that used to work for me, spending lots of time on my bike, working on rhythm,” Delbosco said of getting back to form, “I didn't have a tonne of time on snow this summer, but I was skiing fast in our prep camp and I was skiing fast in training here, and then I managed to have a pretty good start in the final and managed to hold on.”
The win was Delbosco's first on the World Cup circuit in nearly two years, and that, combined with Leman's runner-up performance, should provide a huge boost for a Canadian men's team that has occasionally struggled over the past two seasons.
“It was pretty special,” Delbosco said about scoring a podium with his teammate Leman, “Looking back and seeing Brady behind me and him knowing how much I've struggled last couple seasons, to see him stoked for me was pretty cool. It goes to show that we've put in all the work and we're firing. It's a huge validation. Hopefully we can keep it rolling through the next four races before Christmas.”
Third place on the day went to Kreischberg 2015 world champion Filip Flisar (SLO). Flisar, one of the tour's great personalities, is often also known as a slow starter, and to see him score a podium in the first race of the season suggests he might be returning to the form that saw him take the 2011/12 crystal globe as top man on the ski cross World Cup.
A scary moment came when Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE), second overall on the World Cup last season, required medical attention after completing his quarter final heat. Swedish team sources reported that Oehling Norberg had aggravated a back injury, and would be assessed in hospital.
From Montafon, the Audi ski cross World Cup now travels to what is often considered to be the standout venue on the tour in Val Thorens, France, for races on Friday and Saturday, with qualifications set for Thursday for both races.