Naeslund and Regez on top in first of two at Feldberg

The first of two back-to-back races took to the speedy track in Germany’s Black Forest on Saturday, where Sandra Naeslund (SWE) earned her first win since December and Ryan Regez (SUI) claimed the first of his career at the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup Feldberg.

All week sunny skies and above-average temperatures have reigned over Feldberg, and Saturday was no exception, with the spring-like conditions put the big, boisterous crowd on hand in a celebratory mood throughout the morning’s racing.

Naeslund qualified first for Saturday’s race earlier in the week, and on Saturday she put her top ranking to good use, jumping out to the hole shot throughout the day to maintain control of each heat, including a tough big final where she lined up against her teammate Lisa Andersson, PyeongChang 2018 Olympic bronze medallist Alizee Baron (FRA), and PyeongChang Olympic champion Marielle Thompson (CAN).

Pumping smoothly through the touchy start section of the course, Naeslund was in the lead by the first corner with Andersson - competing in just the second big final of her career - hot on her tails, with Thompson in third and Baron just behind in fourth.

While Naeslund and Andersson opened up a lead, Baron was able to swing around Thompson through the first roller section and into third, before taking the high line through the negative corner while Thompson swung low. Unfortunately for Thompson, the tactic wouldn’t work, and she would lose more ground while Naeslund and Andersson would pull further ahead to sweep across the line in a one-two finish for Sweden and Andersson’s first career World Cup podium, with Baron in third and Thompson fourth.

The win was Naeslund’s first podium since she was victorious in Innichen (ITA) back in December, and for the athlete who won both the ski cross and Freestyle overall crystal globes in 2017/18 it felt like a long drought indeed.

“It’s been a tough two months for me with no big finals and no podiums,” a smiling Naeslund said just after awards ceremony, “So it’s nice to be back on top again. I was able to have good starts, and if you do everything good after that you get to stay in the right line. I just focused on the start and followed the plan. And to share the podium with Lisa (Andersson), it’s her first podium and I think today she’s showing everyone that she’s a really good skier.”

Ryan Regez was a force to be reckoned with on Saturday, as the 26-year-old who has been tearing up the European Cup circuit for the past several seasons while getting the occasional shot with the big team finally made good on his promise, skiing a thrilling race from start to finish to earn his first career World Cup podium in the form of a victory.

Regez qualified in fifth for Saturday’s race, before winning his first two heats and then finishing second in the semifinal behind Florian Wilmsmann (GER), as two the two somewhat unheralded members of their respective teams played cat and mouse on their way to what would be each of their first-ever World Cup big finals.

In that big final Regez and Wilmsmann would be joined by a couple of heavy hitters in Kevin Drury (CAN) and Alex Fiva (SUI), with the later two being involved in some controversy that would see a lengthy run review before the final results were decided at race end.

Regez would have a perfect start in the big final on the inside lane, while Wilmsmann would tuck in hot on his tails, with Drury in third and Fiva just back through the first turn.

Over the second jump Fiva would make a move to pass Drury, and that’s where the trouble started, as Fiva turned his direction towards the start of the negative corner slightly early, with his and Drury’s skis touching as the two came together and Drury going down.

While Regez would be able confidently hold off Wilmsmann to earn his first World Cup victory, and Wilmsmann would thrill the home German crowd with the first podium of his career, officials were reviewing the incident between Fiva and Drury. Eventually, it would be deemed that Fiva’s move was worthy of a yellow card assessment, dropping him from third to fourth place and bumping Drury into what would be the fourth World Cup podium of his career.

Despite the drama and emotions in the finish area following the race, nothing could temper the exuberance of Regez, as one of the most outgoing personalities on the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup tour was finally given his time to shine.

“It’s amazing, man,” said a joyous Regez, “On the ride here this morning, I wasn’t nervous, but I just had this feeling. And then as soon I was in the gate I was just like, ‘You’ve got a fast start, you can win this thing,’ and it actually worked out that way. With the style of this course, with lots of pre-jumping and pushing and with my long legs I could just do it. And in the big final I probably had the start of the day and held it to the end and I could not be happier.”

With Saturday’s competition in the vaults, the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup tour will get right back to business on Sunday morning at 11:30 CET, where more sun and warm temperatures await the competitors as the Feldberg World Cup weekend closes out with what should be a competition every bit as exciting as the one seen on Saturday.

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