Baqueira Beret (ESP) - The penultimate race of the 2018/19 FIS Snowboard Cross World Cup season took to the slopes of Spain’s Baqueira Beret resort on Saturday afternoon, where an entertaining day of competition saw the Czech Republic’s Eva Samkova claim her second win and fourth straight podium of the season, while Austria’s Alessandro Haemmerle showed an impressive return to form on his way to scoring his first podium of the season with a victory.
After two straight weeks of sunny and warm weather, a higher layer of cloud settled in over Baqueira Beret just before the start of finals, though that wouldn’t put a damper on the spring-time vibes around the venue, and in fact probably helped the course remain in good riding shape through the day’s heats.
Samkova came into competition in Spain with three podiums already this season, one of each position, and in the two days of competition at Baqueira Beret it was clear that her hot streak would only continue, as she put down the top qualifying run on Friday before handily winning her first two heats on Saturday.
In the big final she would be lined up against the World Cup leader heading in Saturday’s competition in Lindsey Jacobellis, as well as the French duo of Chloe Trespeuch and Nelly Moenne Loccoz, both of whom had been snakebitten so far this season despite some strong riding.
Through the top half of the course Samkova faced her toughest challenge of the day, as Trespeuch stuck close behind her and mounted a bid for the lead through the second corner. However, holding the faster line out of that corner and into the third bank, Samkova was able to pull ahead of Trespeuch and reestablish a lead that would not be challenged again, crossing the line for her second straight win in Spanish World Cup competition after her victory last season in La Molina.
“I’m super happy that it went like this,” Samkova smiled just after awards, “In the big final I had a little of a struggle with my start, and so after that I just had to push as hard as I could because I know these girls are the best. We had really good racing today, and for myself I’m really happy with my riding because I did some things I wanted to do to make sure they couldn’t catch me.
“It’s fun that me and Lindsey go into the final race (in Veysonnaz) tied for the World Cup lead. I’m really looking forward to it. Sometimes it’s nice to be way out ahead with the points, but this is going to be really fun.”
Coming in behind Samkova in second was Trespeuch after a three-way battle down the stretch with Jacobellis and Moenne Loccoz, giving the 24-year-old her first podium of 2018/19 in just her second race after she missed the early part of the season with an injury.
Jacobellis would be able to hold off Moenne Loccoz for what was also her fourth podium of the season, and she and Samkova now have identical records with two victories, one runner-up, and one third-place finish for 3,400 points each atop the ladies’ rankings.
Haemmerle comes through with statement victory
In the men’s competition, Austria’s Alessandro Haemmerle made a strong statement with his riding on the day, as the 25-year-old who has been consistently one of the top three riders on the World Cup circuit over the past three seasons climbed onto the podium for the first time in 2018/19 with a dominant performance.
Qualifying in second on Friday, Haemmerle took his game up a notch on Saturday, breezing through all three of his lead-up heats to a big final where he would meet up with Adam Lambert (AUS), Kevin Hill (CAN), and reigning double world champion Mick Dierdorff (USA).
However, from the word “go” Haemmerle was in a class of his own on in the big final, immediately jumping out to comfortable lead that he would only lengthen throughout the run, crossing the finish line over one second ahead of his nearest rival Lambert.
“I’ve never actually won a race with a lead like that…it felt pretty good” Haemmerle said with a grin, “In training I was taking it easy and saving my energy and then in the race from start one I felt amazing today. I put in a lot of work lately with my board and my bindings to change some things because I wasn’t satisfied at the start of the season, and also a lot of work on my riding to try to get back to how I wanted to feel, and I’m happy that it’s paid off like this.”
As has been the case in essentially every race this season, all three riders on the men’s podium were in the top three for the first time in 2018/19, with Lambert coming in second for his first podium since last year in Val Thorens (FRA), and third-place Hill scoring his first podium since the last time the SBX World Cup visited Baquiera Beret, three years ago.
Haemmerle moved into second place on the men’s World Cup rankings with 1,640 points, putting him 190 points back of Germany’s Martin Noerl, who finished Saturday’s competition in 14th.
Up next for the FIS Snowboard Cross World Cup is the 2018/19 season finale in Veysonnaz (SUI), where the top 16 ladies’ and 32 men of the season will square off in two weeks time, on March 16th.