Bischofberger claims first career victory, Thompson takes third straight
VAL THORENS, FRA – It was a day that started wet and turned wild on the Audi FIS ski cross World Cup tour on Saturday, as the second of back-to-back races took place at France's famed Val Thorens ski resort.
Athletes awoke Saturday in Val Thorens to fog and rain blanketing the Jean Frederic Chapuis ski cross course, causing minor delays to the morning's qualification program. However, the fog began to lift just as qualifications were getting underway, and when it came time for racing there were perfect blue skies overlooking a competition that would see the host French squad put six athletes in the men's top 10 and score podiums on both men's and ladies' sides.
As has been the case so far this season, the ladies' race was dominated by a single athlete, whereas the men's race was completely unpredictable, with three athletes on the podium for the first time this season, and, in the case of one athlete, for the first time in his career.
While she qualified in fourth place – the first time she hasn't been number one in any phase of competition so far this year – Marielle Thompson (CAN) was able to pick up the slack and again power her way to victory on the Val Thorens course. It was the 2013/14 crystal globe winner's second win in as many days, third this season, and fourth-straight dating back to last year, and coming as it did against former crystal globe winner Anna Holmlund (SWE) and all-time ski cross wins leader Ophelie David (FRA), proved once more that the Canadian is the current undisputed queen of ski cross.
For much of the ladies' final it looked as if David was going to take a huge win on home soil, as she was able to pass Thompson on the top straightaway of the Val Thorens course and build a sizable lead through the race's middle section. However, some canny manoeuvring by Thompson set her up for a pass just above the crucial negative turn, and from there on out the race was hers.
Holmlund, drafting behind Thompson, was able to take advantage of a perhaps distracted David just after Thompson's pass, taking the highline through the negative turn and moving herself into second place.
Their were only three ladies competing in the big final as a crash at the finish line in one of the semi-final heats saw third-place qualifier Sanna Luedi (SUI) knocked from the race. 18-year-old Sandra Naeslund also went down in the same crash, similarly leaving just three women to compete in the small final, which was won by top qualifier Georgia Simmerling (CAN).
The men's big final was a gripping affair, with a half-dozen passes and all four racers within pole-length of each other through the entirety of the course.
Out of the gate it was Armin Niederer (SUI) and Brady Leman (CAN) neck-and-neck in drag race through the course's opening section, before local hero Jonathan Midol (FRA) made a strong move that put himself briefly out in the lead.
However, lurking in the back was a dark horse of the powerful Swiss team, Marc Bischofberger, and while the three more experienced skiers in front of him were busy trading leads, he was setting himself up for one of the smoothest passes seen on the day, as he executed a huge outside-to-inside move that would take him into a lead he would be able to just hold on to, despite a bold challenge from eventual third-place finisher Leman.
The win was the first of 23-year-old Bischofberger's career, and the first win of the season for the Swiss team.
The men's small final was won by top qualifier and Val Thorens SX course namesake Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA).
Thompson's win put her well out in front in both the ski cross and Freestyle World Cup overall crystal globe races, while for the men it was Friday's race winner Andy Schauer (GER) who was able to hold on to the red ski cross leader's bib despite finishing 18th in Saturday's event.
Next up for the men and ladies of ski cross is the Kreischberg 2015 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard world championships, where ski cross competition will close out the entire event on January 25.