The World Cup snowboardcross season got off to an early start at Valle Nevado, Chile last weekend with a pair of men’s and women’s races. Canadians factored in every race, and made five podium appearances when all was said and done.
In the first day of racing, Sept. 26, Whistler’s Maëlle Ricker scooped the silver medal, wedged between Lindsay Jacobellis of the U.S. and Doresia Krings of Austria.
She was also joined in the super final by teammate Christelle Doyon, who placed fourth.
“It was a really fun day today,” said Ricker. “I was pretty slow out of the start today. Drew (Neilson) and I were both having difficulties with it, but I managed to get back in each race. In the finals Christelle and I both had tough starts, but I pulled through in the end.”
Former world champion Dominique Maltais also made progress after a knee injury kept her on the sidelines for most of last season, placing ninth. Michelle Brodeur, a member of the Project 2010 development team, did not make it past the first round of qualifiers.
On the men’s side, Robert Fagan of Crankbrook and Vancouver’s Drew Neilson — the reigning World Cup champion — placed second and third respectively, behind Stian Sivertzen of Norway. Pierre Vaultier of France rounded out the super final to place fourth.
“It feels great to start a season like this, keeping the momentum going from the end of last year,” said Fagan, referring to his win in the national championships. “I wasn’t aggressive enough in the time trials, but I made up for that today. My starts were good, I got through to the finals without much trouble, and I’m looking forward to the next race.”
Vernon’s Tom Velisek was bumped out of contention in the semi-finals, but was second in the small final to place sixth. Whistler’s Derek Wintermans was ninth, Mike Roberton 11 th , Francois Boivin 16 th , Simon Bonenfant 29 th , Matthew Tunnicliffe 32 nd , and Jake Holden 33 rd .
Back in action three days later, Ricker picked up the gold medal and Dominique Maltais took the bronze.
“It was really great to be on the podium again,” said Maltais. “I didn’t quite feel 100 per cent, but I’m definitely more hungry and I’m getting there. I was a bit scared in the first race when the others were dropping in, but today I just went for it, and this is just the beginning.”
Mellie Francon of Switzerland was second and Manuela Riegler of Austria placed fourth.
Michelle Brodeur moved up to 15 th , and Ziggy Cowan made it through the qualifier to finish 22 nd .
In the second men’s competition, Drew Neilson was the only Canadian to qualify for the finals where he placed fourth behind Pierre Vaultier of France, Stian Siverstzen of Norway, and Xavier Delerue of France. Neilson had a bad start but caught the pack midway down the course and nearly edged his way into the bronze medal position.
“It’s always good to get into the finals,” said Nielson. “I got to race some great riders — the kids — but I’m never really happy with my race unless I win.”
Neilson, who lives and trains part-time in Whistler, credited physiotherapist Marilyn Hellier for getting him ready for racing, as well as the 2010 Own The Podium program.
“The funding that we’ve received from Own The Podium is great to allow me to train full-time as an athlete, and concentrate on getting into the gym and on snow so that I can perform at my best. It’s a fabulous honour to be part of this program, and you can see that it’s really working with the training, coaching and all of the support we’ve got. We qualified eight guys, one-quarter of the field today — that’s proof that everyone’s really buying into the system.”
No other participating country qualified as many riders for the finals.
Other Canadian results included Mike Robertson ninth, Tom Velisek 11 th , Robert Fagan 12 th , Derek Wintermans 18 th , Simon Bonenfant 22 nd , Francois Boivin 23 rd , and Jake Holden 25 th .
While the snowboardcross team was in Chile, the Alpine snowboarders’ World Cup season got underway with the indoor slalom at Landgraaf, Netherlands. No Canadians took part in those races. The top three women were Karolina Sztokfisz of Poland, Hilde-Katrine Engeli of Norway, and Mirjam Brakenhoff of the Netherlands.
The men’s race went to Petr Sindelar of Czech Republic, Lukasz Holy of Poland, and Nevin Galmarini of Switzerland.