Feldberg weekend concludes with wins for Naeslund and Chapuis

A picture-perfect weekend of racing in Germany’s Black Forest concluded on Sunday in dramatic fashion, with Sandra Naeslund (SWE) taking back-to-back wins in the closest photo-finish of the season in the ladies’ final, and Jean Frederic Chapuis (FRA) making an incredible big final run from fourth to first to capture the men’s victory at the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup Feldberg.

Once again it was sunny and warm in Feldberg on Sunday, but with the course perfectly prepared for the final day of competition the large crowd on hand was treated to round after round of close, dynamic racing, with the day’s final count showing 15 photo finishes out of a total of 24 heats. And none of those photo-finishes was closer than in the ladies’ big final, where Naeslund lined up alongside Andrea Limbacher (AUT), Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan, the dynamic “Dirt Squirrel” duo who were last season’s respective PyeongChang 2018 gold and silver medallists.

As she had done all weekend, Naeslund pulled out to a remarkable start, finding herself a full ski length ahead by the first corner while her three competitors bunched up behind her, with Limbacher eventually able to emerge from the close quarters and pull into second place behind the Swede.

The Kreischberg 2015 world champion who missed all of the 2016/17 season due to injury and who last stood on the podium over three years ago at the Olympic test event World Cup in PyeongChang, Limbacher had looked especially determined throughout the day on Sunday, and at no time more so than in the final heat as she fended off Phelan and Serwa and closed the gap on Naeslund.

With all four riders once again bunched up through the final roller section of the big final, Limbacher made a near-perfect move across the finish line to draw even with Naeslund with her outstretched arm. However, a close-up of the photo-finish revealled Naeslund to be the winner by a fingertip, giving the 22-year-old top spot of both of this weekend’s Feldberg races.

“I knew it was going to be tighter today so I had been doing some thinking about what to do if I got behind,” Naeslund said about her game plan before the race, “But I was still fast out of the start today…it felt like I kept having half a meter ahead as soon as I was out of the gate, so I was able to ski out front all day. It’s good to get the win today and close in on Fanny (Smith) a little bit more (on the World Cup leaderboard).”

With Limbacher making a long awaited return to the podium in second place, it was down to best friends and teammates Phelan and Serwa to decide the third spot on the steps, with Phelan able to catch and pass Serwa just before the line for her second podium of the season.

As Naeslund mentioned, Fanny Smith (SUI) continues to lead the ski cross World Cup standings with 563 points, while Naeslund is just 13 points back with 550.

In the men’s big final it was three-time crystal globe winner, Sochi 2014 Olympic champion, and the ski cross World Cup’s all-time men’s wins leader Chapuis lined up against some less-heralded skiers in Romain Detraz and Ryan Regez of Switzerland, along with Austria’s Robert Winkler.

Though less-heralded, the three skiers joining Chapuis in the final had been skiing exceptionally all weekend, with Regez particularly running hot after scoring his first career World Cup victory in the previous days race.

In the big final Chapuis had an uncharacteristically poor start, finding himeself in fourht before the first turn. However, you don’t become the winningest men’s ski cross racer of all time by accident, and from the back Chapuis set about picking off his rivals, climbing back into contention before finally pulling out into the lead over the final rollers section to cross the line for his 17th career World Cup victory with his signature flourish.

“I missed my start and ended up in fourth to begin,” Chapuis said after awards, “But I was able to make some speed and make a double pass on the negative corner, then I stayed in the draft until the last turn before I was able to overtake Romain. And yeah, it’s good to win like this. Right now I’m just trying to get a good feeling in my skiing and build towards next season, because I think Bastion (Midol, World Cup leader) is too far ahead to catch.”

Detraz was able to cross the line in second for his third career World Cup podium, with his teammate Regez making a last-second pass on Winkler to take his second podium in as many days at Feldberg. Winkler to wonder might have been as he was left just short of what would have been his first career podium.

Despite his assertion that his teammate Midol is too far ahead on the World Cup standings to be caught, Chapuis with Sunday’s win sits in fact only sits 34 points back of the leader, with 512 points to Midol’s 546, and with three races remaining in the 2018/19 World Cup season.

From Feldberg, the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup now makes its way to Sunny Valley (RUS), for a pair of races next weekend, with competition taking place from Feb 22-24.

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