Canmore’s Tafel wins first World Cup Ski Cross

Canada’s Tristan Tafel won his first career ski cross World Cup race in Bischofswiesen/Goetschen, Germany, on Saturday, while Chris Del Bosco finished third to close the gap on teammate Brady Leman in the race for the Crystal Globe.

Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., needed some luck to make it through a wild semifinal but he made it look easy in the final as he led from start to finish to claim what was also his first career World Cup podium. The 21-year-old is in his first full season on the World Cup circuit after winning the Nor-Am Cup title last year. His previous best World Cup result was a ninth-place finish in Innichen/San Candido, Italy, on Dec. 18, 2011.

Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., kept the heat on his good buddy Leman – the overall ski cross World Cup leader – with his third World Cup podium of the season. With only four races remaining, including Sunday’s second race in Bischofswiesen/Goetschen, the battle for the individual ski cross World Cup title is going down to the wire. Leman, of Calgary, Alta. – who was 19th Saturday after getting tangled up in the first heat – leads the way with 343 points. Switzerland’s Alex Fiva – who was 18th Saturday – sits second in the standings with 332 points and Del Bosco is third with 314. Del Bosco has been the runner-up for the ski cross title for the past three years but Canada has never won an individual ski cross Crystal Globe.

“I’m still in shock,” said Tafel, who turns 22 on Sunday. “I was really happy with my starts but in the final I just kept thinking, ‘I’m going to get some contact at this turn or this jump,’ and it never happened. As I turned the corner going into the finish I was like, ‘Holy cow, I’m in the lead and I might just win my first World Cup.’

“I just want to thank my team for helping me out this season. It’s their win, really. I’ve gotten so many tips from all of my teammates.”

Tafel, a former alpine skier who was part of the national development team, was second in both the round of 32 and the quarter-finals on Saturday. In the semifinal, he was fourth and facing elimination when lady luck smiled on him.

“(Tomas) Kraus took out one of the gates. I had to jump over and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I hiked as fast as I could,” Tafel explained. “Sylvain Miaillier (of France) and myself made it through. It was just crazy.

“I would have been ecstatic to have made it to a small final so winning the final was definitely not something I was shooting for in my goals, but it just came together today. I’m really happy to share it with my teammates.”

Tafel becomes the fifth Canadian from the men’s team to land on the podium this season. The others are Del Bosco, Leman, Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., and Nik Zoricic, of Toronto, Ont.

Leman had some bad luck as he got tangled up in his first heat and went out. Davey Barr, of Whistler, B.C., and Dave Duncan were unfortunate enough to be drawn alongside Del Bosco and Austria’s Robert Winkler in the first heat and they were both eliminated. Barr was 23rd and Duncan finished 29th. Zoricic won his first heat but went shoulder to shoulder with another racer through a turn in the quarter-final and went out. He was 15th.

Del Bosco watched a host of big names – including Leman and Fiva – go out early and concentrated on staying on his feet to ensure he picked up as many points as he could. He was second in his first two heats and won his semifinal with ease.

“It was a pretty good battle out there. The course was pretty chewed up,” said Del Bosco, the X Games gold medallist and reigning ski cross world champion. “With all those guys going out I knew I just had to have a smart race. I’m pretty excited that I made up some ground.”

In the final, Del Bosco had a decent start and was sitting second behind Tafel. The USA’s John Teller squeezed through to finish second and Miaillier was fourth.

“It’s tough when you are in second,” Del Bosco said. “I (messed up) one feature and went a little wide and Teller was right there to capitalize.

“It was pretty sweet to see Tristan win.”

Assistant coach Brent Kehl said the men’s race was one of the most thrilling he’s ever seen.

“It was very exciting. I’ve never seen so many lead changes from beginning to end,” Kehl said. “Tristan has learned so much from teammates like Chris Del Bosco and his starts have been amazing. We thought he had potential and we are ecstatic that he did it today.”

A second men’s qualification round and race are scheduled for Sunday. Next weekend, the men are scheduled to do battle in Branas, Sweden, before the final two races of the season take place in Grindelwald, Switzerland, on March 10 and 11.