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Ricker wins one but Maltais takes the title

Snowboardcross season wraps up in Italy

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The good news is that the FIS World Cup crystal globe for snowboardcross is coming back to Canada, but not to Whistler's Ma'lle Ricker. Her teammate Dominique Maltais finished one spot ahead of her in the final event of the season at Valmalenco, Italy, defending her title despite some strong competition in the last part of the season from Ricker.

It was anybody's race until the semi-final, when Ricker fell in the last turn and allowed American racer Jacqueline Hernandez to pass and move into the finals, followed by Nelly Moenne Loccoz of France and Zoe Gillings of Britain. Maltais finished fourth on the day and Ricker was fifth.

"What a great race," said Ricker. "That's what we live for inj sport, to have it come down to that final, final moment. So I'm still super happy with the day and the season and really looking forward to next year."

Two days earlier at Valmalenco, Ricker was the top racer winning her second straight World Cup and third straight podium. In that race she was followed by Alexandar Jekova of Bulgaria and Nelly Moenne Loccoz. Maltais was fourth, putting Ricker within 10 points of the globe.

It was a far better finish than she expected, given the circumstances.

In 2011, the 33-year-old Squamish resident underwent her eighth knee surgery in a career that goes back to the mid 1990s. She also injured her shoulder in the same crash that injured her knee, hooking her hand in a gate at the World Championships during the final race.

She hasn't been completely healthy since then, and was pleasantly surprised to place fifth in the first three World Cup events of the season - well back of where she usually finishes, but ahead of dozens of other racers.

"I'm not 100 per cent, which actually gives me confidence for the next seasons because I'm happy to have good results even though I'm not feeling close to my best," she said. "The level of the women's field is only getting stronger so I have to keep pushing every little thing to stay with the fastest."

As well as racing World Cup, Ricker had the opportunity to make a few diversions this season. One was to the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom in February, where she won the women's title for a sixth straight year. Another was a trip to Sochi to compete in the Europa Cup race at the 2014 Olympic venue.

"Sochi was great," she said. "Very well organized, great snow, beautiful mountains. I'm looking forward to competing there next year (at the Olympic test event) and at the Games."

None of the World Cup riders took the event too seriously, but kept their eyes on the up-and-coming Russian riders that are hoping to win medals at home.

"The Russian girls have been getting better quickly so I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the finals in 2014," said Ricker. "The men are already strong."

As for Maltais, she was happy to win the crystal globe but has been frustrated the last three races of the season.

"I'm relieved I won the title," she said. "Of course I wanted to win but couldn't pass. When you are behind, you start thinking of the ranking. It was pretty stressful out there."

The Canadian men haven't been able to find their groove this year, and the top racer on Wednesday was Kevin Hill in 29th place. Stian Sivertzen of Norway was first, followed by Alex Tuttle of the U.S., Tony Ramoin of France and Luca Matteotti of Italy.

In the second race on Friday, the last of the season, the win went to Konstantin Schad of Germany, followed by Andrey Boldykov of Russia and Lluis Marin Tarroch of Andorra. The top Canadian was once again Kevin Hill in 26th.

The World Cup winds up this weekend with a parallel giant slalom.

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