It was a highly successful FIS Snowboard Cross World Cup premiere event in Bakuriani, Georgia, on Thursday, with nothing short of excitement indeed.
The organizing committee of Bakuriani, together with the Georgian Ski Federation and all stakeholders involved, did an incredible job, hosting the FIS Snowboard Cross World Cup after the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup had been staged at the same venue one week earlier.
The course was adapted from ski to snowboard cross, thanks to the builders and the hard work of the entire shaping crew. In the end, snowboard cross athletes were able to show an incredible performance of what we love most – a race full of action, passing and tight photo finishes.
Samkova takes over World Cup lead
For the big final on the women’s side, we saw Olympic Champion and Idre silver medallist Michela Moioli (ITA), Idre bronze medallist, “Ms. Moustache” Eva Samkova (CZE), 19-year-old Julia Pereira de Sousa Mabileau (FRA) and winningest SBX athlete up to date, Lindsey Jacobellis (USA) ready in the start gate to fight it out for the podium spots.
After the gates dropped, Samkova and Moioli were leading the heat, but with the upcoming roller section, the Italian Olympic Champion was able to press them successfully in order to get into the first position. Samkova was on Moioli’s tail, Jacobellis in third and Pereira de Sousa Mabileau at the tail of the heat.
All four were quite close and coming into the turn, the young French athlete showed that she was not being intimidated by the big names she was fighting against, took the inside line and successfully passed Jacobellis.
In the following bank turn, Jacobellis touched Pereira de Sousa Mabielau’s board and lost some speed, whereas the young French athlete now gained even more speed and chose another really good line, just to get herself into second position, edging Moioli to third and Jacobellis to fourth position.
On the final part of the course, just after one of the jumps, which allowed for everybody to get more speed, it got quite tight once again on the finish straight after the roller section, where Jacobellis managed to get closer to the leading pack and then in the end it looked as if all four women crossed the finish line seemingly at the same time, but at last, it was “Ms. Moustache”, Eva Samkova who took the win with Julia Pereira de Sousa Mabileau grabbing second after her incredible performance and Lindsey Jacobellis winning the fight with Moioli for the third spot on the podium.
After winning the qualies on Wednesday, Samkova showed what she got in her on the 2023 World Champs course came race day and, in the end, also taking over the World Cup leader bib from Moioli, she stated after the race: “It was so tough today and really difficult, because the girls were riding amazingly. And I put my 150% in all of the runs, but especially in the final. It was really hard, super tight and my legs are really burning, so I am super happy that I made it, but also congrats to all the girls!”
The battle for the leader bib continues, as Michela Moioli is now sitting in second at the World Cup ranking, but only 5 points short to Samkova, who has a total of 305 points. Sitting in third rank is still Faye Gulini (USA) with 222 points, so it will be interesting to see, how the standings might change with still 2 races left this season and one already coming up on Sunday. The globe is definitely unfinished business still, which keeps the excitement up.
Eliot Grondin on fire
For the final heat of the day, it was Idre bronze medallist Eliot Grondin (CAN), who had been showing incredible performances so far in this season, World Cup leader Alessandro Haemmerle (AUT), his teammate Lukas Pachner and Italian Lorenzo Sommariva, ready to conquer the 2023 Bakuriani World Champs course.
Riders ready – attention – GO! Grondin shot out of the start gate in an incredible manner, immediately getting into the lead, whereas Hammerle got neck-and-neck with him and tried to position himself in first, but did not succeed to do so. Sommariva was sitting in third and the second Austrian, Lukas Pachner, fourth.
Hammerle made an approach to pass the young leading Canadian after a bank turn, after gaining enough speed to make the move, in which he finally succeeded, edging Grondin to second position. After another turn, the Canadian had a little problem with keeping the balance on his board, but managed to stay on his feet.
Of course, that moment was the chance for Sommariva to approach Grondin and fight for the second spot. The Italian took the inside line at the following bank and overtook the young Canadian. And after the next jump and roller section that came up next, Sommariva even made an attack on Haemmerle to pass, which he managed to do.
But then, from the outside line, suddenly Grondin reappeared at the front of the heat and now it was also Lukas Pachner attacking from his fourth position. The athletes were now in a really close pack and on the final meters, Pachner even managed to pass Sommariva on the outside line and almost overtaking Grondin on the very finish line.
It was a photo finish in the end that showed that the victory went to Eliot Grondin, making it his very first World Cup win, second place to Lukas Pachner and rounding out the podium was Lorenzo Sommariva.
On the question, whether he expected the win today, Eliot Grondin answered: “I would not think so, no. In my first heat, I almost didn’t make it, it was super tight, but after that I figured out my strategy for the race and then I knew that I could win the start in the big final and let people pass me. And that’s what I did. Alessandro passed me and then also Lorenzo and for me it was the perfect situation to draft and pass for the finish.”
The 19-year-old continued: “I love it here. It is my first time in Georgia, it’s such a cool place and the people are amazing. I really love it here!”
As for the World Cup standings on the men’s side, with his fourth-place finish, Haemmerle is still in the lead with a total of 270 points, but really close behind him is Eliot Grondin with only eight points less. Sitting in third is Glenn de Blois (NED) with a count of 187 points. So, also for the men, all possibilities are still open as for the SBX crystal globe.
It will be interesting to see, if the leader bib will get a new owner on Sunday, as there will be another podium chance at the second of back-to-back races here at the 2023 World Champs track in Georgia with a pre-heat qualification in a holistic format, meaning in heats of four with top two athletes qualifying for the finals.
Pre-heat qualies will start at 09:15 LOC/ 06:15 CET and finals are slated to start at 11:00 LOC/ 8:00 CET.
Friday, March 5 at 11:00 LOC/ 8:00 CET:
TV: ORF Sport+ (Austria), Eurosport 2 (Asia, Europe), ZC Sport (Czech Republic), TV2 SPXRT (Denmark), ARENA 4 (Hungary), Silknet, Euronews (Georgia), Teledeporte (Spain), Ziggo Sport 14 (The Netherlands), Polsat Sports News (Poland)