What an epic way to kick-off the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup season. The Olympic track met all the expectations ski cross fans could have asked for. Not only did athletes get awesome weather conditions, but the course was perfectly shaped and promised a fantastic day of racing with lots of action, many passes and exciting moments, where you could hear everyone in the finish holding their breaths.
World Champion Naeslund wins season opener
The four women to enter the final heat of the day were big names like World Champion Sandra Naeslund (SWE), Vice-World Champion and winningest ski cross athlete Fanny Smith (SUI), and two veterans, one being from France, Marielle Berger-Sabbatel and one from Austria, that being Katrin Ofner.
The Swedish athlete was super fast out of the start gate and secured the first spot to lead the heat. After the start section it was Austria’s Katrin Ofner who managed to get just behind the World Champion, but unfortunately skied on Naeslund’s ski, causing her to lose speed and falling behind into third position and then even Smith snuck in at the next turn, fighting head-to-head with the French athlete for the second spot.
While Naeslund was absolutely in the lead, there was a moment before the last bank turn, when Ofner tried to attack Berger-Sabbatel to get that podium spot, but it did not work out.
That way, Naeslund took the win, Smith came in second and Berger-Sabbatel finished third.
“It was pretty difficult, it was hard to keep the rest of the heat behind and you had to go down the course perfectly all the way and my legs really hurt now”, Naeslund said.
On the question, whether this win was maybe some kind of prediction for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games, Naeslund answered: “Yeah, I hope so. I mean, it is a good start into the season at least and then I will take it race by race and then we’ll see.”
We also saw amazing comeback performances by Austria’s 2015 World Champ Andrea Limbacher with a solid 10th place. And having gotten injured at the exact same race in Megeve (FRA) 2 years ago, PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist Brittany Phelan managed to win the small final. What a comeback, congratulations!!!
From Russia with love sent by Sergey Ridzik
PyeongChang 2018 bronze medallist on the men’s side is Russian athlete Sergey Ridzik, who seemed to be just on fire today, as he smelled the Olympic air, it seems. Winning every heat of the day, he advanced until the big final.
For the big final of men, it was Sergey Ridzik, equally tall Bastien Midol (FRA), 2018 Olympic Champion Brady Leman and Austria’s Johannes Rohrweck in the start gate, waiting for it to drop for the final time that day.
Ridzik shot out as fast as a rocket to get over that first start section in first position, but Midol was coming up from behind, just to overtake him on the next roller section and going into the negative turn. In one of the next turns, Brady Leman, who was in fourth position, wanted to take the inside lane, but somehow drifted to the lower part of the course, taking Johnny Rohrweck’s space, forcing the Austrian to miss a gate and falling out of the fight for a podium spot.
That way Midol was leading the way into the next bank with Ridzik in second and Leman in third position. But already jumping into the next turn, Midol lost some speed, which he would have needed for the final roller section leading up to the final jump. This was precisely the moment, when Ridzik passed Midol and jumped into the finish, crossing the finish line as the winner of the day.
And all of a sudden, Leman seemed to have also gained a lot of speed in that final roller section, gaining more speed on that final jump and even enough to cross the finish line second with an exciting photo finish to prove that.
“Thank you to my whole team for making this possible, it was a great competition, so was the course, really amazing actually. I am so happy to be on the podium again. And I really hope to get on the podium again in February”, a very tired, but happy Sergey Ridzik said in the finish.
What a way to end a race with fighting until the very finish – that’s ski cross, ladies and gentlemen!
Naturally, the winners of the first World Cup race of the season are also the World Cup leaders, which means that Sandra Naeslund and Sergey Ridzik are now wearing the leader bibs.
After a great week of training, qualies and racing on the Olympic track with sunny weather all the way, it is time to travel back to Europe and get prepped for the European December leg of the tour, which will start with back-to-back races in France’s Val Thorens on Dec 10 and 11.
Bon voyage and see you in France!