Zacher and Bischofberger take Cross Alps Tour leads in Innichen/San Candido

21 December 2017 17:45
Heidi Zacher and Marc Bischofberger
Heidi Zacher and Marc Bischofberger -
GEPA Pictures

Innichen/San Candido (ITA) - The first of two competitions slated to conclude the 2017 FIS Ski Cross Alps Tour ski cross bonanza took to the historic slopes of South Tyrol’s Innichen/ San Candido (ITA) resort on Thursday afternoon, where Germany’s Heidi Zacher and Switzerland’s Marc Bischofberger claimed the respective ladies’ and men’s victories, with each capturing the Cross Alps Tour leader’s bibs in the process.

Perfect conditions greeted the athletes at Thursday morning’s inspection, with clear, cold temperatures and a perfectly prepared track ready for competition. 

After pre-final heats of 32 men and 32 ladies’ whittled things down early on, the main event got underway in the early afternoon, with a furious pace, incredible passing, and some surprising outcomes thrilling viewers from the outset of the quarter finals. 

Top qualifiers and favourites such as Fanny Smith (SUI) and India Sherret (CAN) on the ladies’ side, and Filip Flisar (SLO), Alex Fiva (SUI), Victor Oehling Norberg (SWE) on the men’s side all found themselves on the outside looking in of the competition earlier than most would have bet on, setting things up for an interesting finish.


Zacher goes three in a row at Innichen/San Candido

In the ladies’ big final, Zacher lined up alongside the Tour leader at the start of the day Sandra Naeslund (SWE), the explosive Georgia Simmerling (CAN), and the resurgent Alizee Baron (FRA), for a final that would be perhaps the most entertaining heat of the day.

Zacher was slow out of the gate, and at one point fell all the way back to fourth place while Simmerling and Naeslund battled for the lead. After Naeslund made a critical, uncharacteristic mistake, the race looked like it would be Simmerling’s for her first career victory. 

Zacher had other plans, however, charging her way back through the ranks and eventually overtaking Simmerling for first place when the Canadian left the door open on the course’s second negative corner. While Naeslund battled vainly to reel in Simmerling, Zacher swept down the final few turns and across the line for what was her third consecutive win in Innichen/San Candido, dating back to last season when she swept both races. 

Zacher now has four wins and six career podiums at the Italian resort, and, with her fourth-straight podium to start the 2017/18 season, was able to jump just ahead of Naeslund into first place on the Cross Alps Tour rankings, with 340 points to Naeslund’s 320.

Simmerling’s second-place result was her first podium of the season, and comes exactly one year to the day that she scored a third-place result for her first podium of the season in 2016/17. Naeslund, meanwhile, was visibly upset at the third place result in a race she felt she could have won, though she, like Zacher, now also has four straight podiums to start the year.

Baron’s fourth place result was her second-straight, as she continues an impressive comback campaign after missing 20 months due to injury.


Bischofberger earns second career win, Cross Alps Tour lead

In the men’s big final it was all Bischofberger, all the time, as the burly Swiss skier pulled out of the start gate into a lead he would not relinquish, gaining time and space ahead of his competitors and looking fully composed throughout his big final run. As with Zacher, Bischofberger would leap into the Cross Alps Tour lead with his win, his 202 points pointing him 28 points ahead of Sergey Ridzik’s (RUS) 174 with one competition to go. 

There was some action behind him, however, as Austrians Christoph Wahrstoetter and Thomas Zangerl, and Canadian Mathieu Leduc sparred for position throughout the course.

Leduc was slowest out of the gate, but with some patience and some smooth skiing took advantage of a couple Austrian missteps to thread his way into third place, looking like he might be on his way to the first podium of his career after several injury-plagued seasons. 

However, it was not to be. As it looked like Leduc was closing in on Wahrstoetter he got tangled up in Austrian veteran’s skiis, stepping out of danger without incident but killing his speed. Seeing his opening, Zangerl rocketed past on the low line just before the steep GS section of the course, giving the Austrian team their first two podiums of the season.

Despite the disappointment, the fourth-place results was still the best of Leduc’s career, and makes things interesting for the large Canadian squad as they move towards selecting their team for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. 

The final competition of the 2017 Audi FIS Ski Cross Alps Tour gets underway tomorrow, with only the top 16 ladies and top 32 men on the Tour standings eligible to race. The first heats for the competition selected by the top athletes themselves the public heat selection held in Innichen’s town centre on Thursday evening.