Samkova and Vaultier claim SBX World Cup title in thrilling showdown
2014 Olympic champions Eva Samkova (CZE) and Pierre Vaultier (FRA) have claimed the 2016-17 season's SBX World Cup title after holding their main rivals for the Crystal Globe at bay in the tour's ultimate race's finals which were staged in perfect conditions on the high speed course of Veysonnaz.
The Wallis scenery and under a blue bird sky were the perfect backdrop for the grand World Cup finale which hadn't been as close for a long time.
In fact, 2010 had produced the most thrilling end to a boarder cross season for quite a long time when Alex Pullin (AUS) had passed Pierre Vaultier – who had led the standings before the final race took place in Arosa – with the tiny mere of 60 points in the final standings.
This time, again in Switzerland, it was the Frenchman who was hunting for the Globe.
The 29-year-old from Saint Chaffrey had descended on the Swiss Alps with the confidence boost of being the new world champion and ready to keep the momentum of two consecutive wins.
And as if a Hollywood director would have given the ultimate race of the seven-stop tour a finishing touch, the main actors in the battle for the title met each other in the men's big final.
Vaultier and World Cup ranking leader Omar Visintin (ITA) – only separated by 20 points before going into the season's showdown – were finally racing head to head to find out who would be able to walk away with the precious trophy after Alessandro Haemmerle (AUT) had missed his shot for the Globe being eliminated in the semis.
Vaultier in the lead going out of turn two © Adam Johnston
When the gates finally dropped it was the Vaultier, the man with the most wins on the SBX tour, to win the hole shot leading the pack of six comfortably over the steep start section and through the first two turns.
Visintin on the other hand, was trying everything he could to catch the French racer in front of him being handicapped by a bad start gate choice due to his qualifier results.
However, just as in the rounds before, the 27-year-old from Merano found the line to squeeze through his rivals into third before things took its course into Vaultier's favour.
Being caught in the battle for position, Visintin went all in in the middle roller section but did risk too much on its final hip, overshooting the landing while taking out Kevin Hill (CAN) and best qualifier Lucas Eguibar (ESP), too.
“Actually, it wasn't the last chance to get Pierre, I could have tried it a bit later, too. But I was drafting and pretty fast, so I just sent it – but yeah, I was too fast. But hey, if you aren't going for it, you have lost anyway,” Visintin explained the moment which finally decided about the crown.
However, the South Tyrolean wasn't disappointed at all: “I'm super happy with the second rank in the standings as it means that I had a good season. I did compete in many finals, so I'm pretty happy with my riding.
Following the unsuccessful all-or-nothing manoeuvre of his competitor, Vaultier brought home his career's 20th win ahead of Alex Deibold (USA) and Alex Pullin therefore also securing his fifth SBX World Cup title (4,450) with Visintin (3,920) and Alessandro Haemmerle (AUT; 3,404.60) wrapping up the season as respective second and third overall.
“It's quite hard for me to explain what I feel,” the most successful boarder cross racer of all time said after the medal ceremony.
“I didn't expect the 2017 season to be that good for me. I had a bad start to the season. But then I got third in Bansko, Bulgaria and I just carried on from there. I have to say, this season turned out to be the best of my entire career; after more than ten years of racing, ten years after my first World Cup win back in Stoneham.”
In the women's event, things might not have been as close in the standings going into the final event of the World Cup season but the plot was only slightly different.
Again, the main protagonists in the showdown for the title – Eva Samkova and Michela Moioli – were set to go down woman vs woman with four more girls in the gates aiming to take home the win.
However, all eyes were on Samkova, who had underlined her claim for the title with the best qualifier time yesterday.
In fact, the Czech powerhouse just had to cross the line in fourth position to secure her career's first title. And things went just the way the 23-year-old from Vrchlabi wanted them to.
Half way through the course, things look good for Samkova © Adam Johnston
Thanks to a good start she led the pack all the way down to the last left turn where she indeed got passed by Charlotte Bankes (FRA) who earned her career's second win since La Molina 2015 but was able to defend the second rank ahead of Moioli finally getting her hands on the Crystal Globe with a total of 5,170 points.
“It's crazy, just crazy. Michela was really hard to beat today, and every girl in the final was riding so well. Even though I won the qualifiers with a big advantage, today was a totally different race.
I'm really glad that I made it because it was my dream to win the title when I started to compete in snowboard cross. And with the girls getting better and better it just gets harder and harder to win the Globe. So, winning it means even more to me,” Samkova said.
Moioli (4,490) and Belle Brockhoff (AUS; 4,060) who had missed the last individual race of the winter due to an ACL surgery finished the season as respective second and third of the ranking.
The FIS SBX World Cup season concludes tomorrow with the final SBX Team event and the decision for the first ever SBX Team World Cup title in Veysonnaz at 12 PM CET.
Full results of this season's final SBX World Cup staged at Veysonnaz, Switzerland can be viewed online.