Howden takes maiden win at home and Naeslund is back

After a week of arctic temperatures in Nakiska, Canada, it finally got warmer for the first Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup race of 2020. And what a race that was! Fans who came out to cheer on their heroes got offered some real ski cross action with none other than retired Olympic champion Kelsey Serwa commentating the event.

Probably the biggest surprise of the day was that Marielle Thompson (CAN), who had won three times in Nakiska already, did not manage to get into the big final. She did however manage to win the small final, earning some important World Cup points to secure the third position in the SX World Cup ranking.

For the women’s final, Cross Alps Tour winner Sandra Naeslund (SWE) battled Brittany Phelan (CAN), Fanny Smith (SUI) and Marielle Berger-Sabbatel (FRA).

Naeslund shot out of the start gate, leaving the rest of the heat behind her and keeping that first position from top to bottom of the course, always making sure to keep the right line, closing doors and not letting Brittany Phelan pass. Phelan made a few attempts to get in first position, but Naeslund did know how to prevent that from happening.

Initially Fanny Smith was second, however got passed by Phelan in one of the turns in the upper section of the course, causing Smith to fight for third position against Berger-Sabbatel. The French athlete however crashed in a bank, taking herself out of the fight for the podium spots. Smith then managed to get really close to Phelan and Naeslund at one point, but did not manage to stay close in the final section.

So, the winner of the day was once again Sandra Naeslund, who successfully defended her Nakiska win from 2018. Brittany Phelan, the silver medallist from Pyeongchang 2018, took second place and Fanny Smith rounded out the podium.

As for the men, the big final was a battle Canada against Germany. World Cup leader Kevin Drury and teammate Reece Howden representing the hosting nation and veteran Daniel Bonhacker and Florian Wilmsmann representing Germany.

Reece Howden was the fastest out of the start gate, but all four athletes stuck together pretty tightly, until then Team Canada managed to get ahead of the German athletes. 21-year-old Reece Howden stayed in first position until the finish line, Drury did try to grab that top spot a couple of times, but could not get by Howden.

Wilmsmann’s and Drury’s skis touched at one point and it looked as if Drury was about to fall, but he balanced it out and stayed on his skis. Wilmsmann was sitting in third position and it looked as if he would take that podium spot, but a mistake in the finish section gave Bohnacker the opportunity to sneak in and getting in third.

The Canadian crowd could not have been happier to have overall three Canadians on the podium.
An emotional Howden commented: “It was awesome competing in front of my family and friends. It was unreal hearing all the cheers from the home crowd. I couldn’t ask for anything more!”

The World Cup leaders after Nakiska's competition remain the same, Sandra Naeslund with a total of 550 points and Kevin Drury with a total of 476 points.

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