The fourth phase of the 2016 Audi FIS Ski Cross Cross Alps Tour went down in thrilling fashion on Saturday in Montafon (AUT), with Cross Alps Tour leaders Marielle Thompson (CAN) and Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) claiming victories in the heated competition and extending their leads upon the ski cross World Cup field.
An early injury to top-qualifier Chris Delbosco (CAN) slowed the start of the race, but once competition got back on track, the big, flowing Montafon course allowed the athletes of the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup to put on full display what makes the tour so compelling. With tight head-to-head racing, a multitude of passes, and several photo finishes, the action was packed from start to finish.
Thompson found herself lined up alongside Marielle Berger Sabbatel (FRA), Heidi Zacher (GER), and Daniella Maier (GER) in the ladies’ big final, and all three of those ladies had impressed with some strong skiing on their way to the finale, with Maeir in particular putting on a one-woman show on the day, executing an inside pass on Ophelie David (FRA) and Georgia Simmerling (CAN) in her semifinal heat that is an early candidate for pass of the year.
Unfortunately, when she would attempt a similar move in the final she would lose control and spin out, sending Thompson, Berger Sabbatel, and Zacher away to sort the podium rankings out between the three of them. And, while both ladies would challenge Thompson’s lead, the rangy Canadian would be able to hold them off for her second win of the season and a repeat performance of her win in Montafon a season before.
Men’s competition was fierce right from the first heat, with Brady Leman and Alex Fiva, ranked second and third overall so far this season, respectively, both eliminated in the eight finals, along with several other big names.
In the end it would come down to Chapuis, his French teammate Jonas Devouassoux, Marc Bischofberger (SUI), and Kevin Drury (CAN).
Drury, making the second big finals appearance of his young career, actually beat Chapuis in the semifinals, and looked like he might have the best chance of taking down the reigning Olympic champion and World Cup overall winner.
However, after such a thrilling semifinal performance, Drury’s day would end in frustration after falling midway through the course while on the heels of Chapuis. Drury’s fall forced Devouassoux and Bischofberger to take evasive action, spreading the skiers out and giving Chapuis an easy win after what had been an exceptionally tough competition up until that point.
Devouassoux would complete a three-podium day for the French team by taking second place, while Bischofberger, with his boisterous fan club in the stands at the finish, took third place and the second podium of his career.
With just two events to go in the Cross Alps tour, Thompson and Chapuis have both built points leads that will be tough to chase down for their closest competitors, with Thompson’s 345 points a 110 point advantage over Anna Holmlund’s 235, and Chapuis’ 289 points putting him 97 clear of Brady Leman’s 192.
Those final two competitions of the Tour will take place in Innichen/San Candido, Italy, the longest-running stop on the ski cross tour and one of the more interesting challenges on the World Cup.
Competition in Innichen gets underway with qualifications on Tuesday, December 20th, followed by competitions on Wednesday and Thursday, with the startlist for the Tour finale on Thursday being decided by the Cross Alps tour rankings after Wednesday’s race.
There, after 14 days of hard competition spread out along a 1000km trail across the Alps, the first ever Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup Cross Alps Tour champions will be crowned.