Leman 2nd in Val Thorens ski cross

Brady Leman picked up his second podium in as many races by taking silver in the men’s final at the Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup race in Val Thorens, France, on Wednesday.

Leman, of Calgary, Alta., battled Switzerland’s Armin Niederer all the way to the finish to follow up his second-place result in Telluride, USA, last week with another second at the first European stop on the 2012-13 ski cross World Cup tour. Leman sits second in the individual ski cross World Cup standings with 200 points. Niederer is first with 260 points.

Dave Duncan, of London, Ont., finished fourth in the men’s final after advancing through three heats alongside Leman. Kelsey Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C., was the top Canadian on the women’s side after finishing 15th.

“I’m proud of what I did today but with that said, I want to win,” said Leman, who was No. 2 in the world last season and has made it his goal to be the first Canadian man to win the individual ski cross World Cup title this year. “The Crystal Globe, for me, it’s my main goal this season. It’s what I’ve set out to get; it’s what I want.

“(I’ve had) two silvers in a row and it’s going to take that kind of consistency this year to have a shot at it.”

Leman and Duncan worked well together all day but in the men’s final there were effectively two separate races as Leman tucked in behind Niederer and Duncan tried to pass the third-place racer, the USA’s Joe Swensson, from the back of the pack.

Leman battled all the way down and came close on a few occasions but ultimately wasn’t able to pass his Swiss rival.

“When you know you are behind the guy who’s leading the overall . . . I was really trying to get ahead of him but I just couldn’t,” Leman said. “Both ‘Dunc’ and I messed up out of the gate. I was third out of the start and passed the American.

“I had the speed coming up behind Armin. He made a little bit of bobble off the second-last jump and he did a nice swing back to keep me behind him. He’s racing so strong right now. It’s going to be interesting to see how the year keeps going.”

Duncan, who was 15th in qualifying, got off to a superb start in his round of 32 heat and Leman tucked in behind him to ensure the Canadians advanced 1-2. Both men had to battle extremely hard to advance from their quarter-final with Leman tucking in behind Czech star Tomas Kraus out of the start before he made a superb pass to win the heat. Duncan was the slowest starter but managed to make passes to move into third and then second to advance alongside Leman.

In their semifinal, Duncan took a great line at the top and moved into the lead at the first turn. He stayed in front and Leman held on to second position – despite plenty of action behind him, including a wipe out from Germany’s Daniel Bohnacker – to ensure both men advanced to the final.

In the final, a tough start left Duncan with a huge fight on his hands and he wasn’t able to move past Swensson to secure his first podium of the season.

“I had two amazing starts and two not so amazing starts,” Duncan said. “In the final I just missed my pole out of the gate and those three guys took off on me.

“Every time I go into a race I feel I have a chance of making it to the finals . . . That mistake out of the start in the final – definitely, I wish it hadn’t gone that way. That first (World Cup) win still eludes (me).”

It was a long day for all the racers, with course inspections, qualification, training runs and then the finals all squeezed into one day following weather-related issues on the previous two days.

“The boys are tired,” said Eric Archer, head coach of the Canadian ski cross team. “Brady’s skiing smart and with both him and Duncan, it’s only a matter of time before (they) are standing on top of the podium.

“I’m surprised we are seeing the results this quickly. These guys are out here and they are racing and they are focused. That’s impressive.”

Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que. – who qualified 11th-fastest – battled hard in his round of 32 heat but ultimately lost out when he finished third, to finish 18th overall. Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., suffered the same fate and finished 23rd, while Mathieu Leduc, of Comox, B.C. (45th), didn’t make it through the qualification round. Only the top 32 advanced. Archer confirmed that Ian Deans, of Kelowna, B.C. – who was hurt in last week’s race in Telluride, USA – is likely out for the season after damaging the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. He is set to have surgery.

“It’s great to get (Hélie) in there with a good qualifying time today,” Archer said. “He was sitting in second place for most of the way down.

“It’s hard to lose a kid like (Deans) but he’s young and we will keep him on the list and get him back and ready for next year.”

On the women’s side, reigning world champion Serwa was the only Canadian who made it through to the quarter-finals after finishing seventh in the qualification round. Serwa got off to a slow start in her quarter-final and then lost her speed when she was pinched at a turn as she tried to make a pass. She was eliminated and finished 15th.

“Kelsey was the only girl in the elimination round and she had trouble out of the start,” Archer said.

Switzerland’s Fanny Smith once again showed she’s the woman to beat this season as she made a superb pass in the ladies’ final to take the win from Norway’s Marte Hoeie-Gjefsen. Austria’s Andrea Limbacher was third. Smith is now a perfect three for three after the opening three World Cup races of the 2012-13 World Cup season. She leads the ski cross World Cup standings with 300 points, while French veteran Ophelie David is second (182 points). Serwa sits seventh (95 points).

Danielle Sundquist, of Calgary, narrowly missed out on the quarter-finals when she finished 17th in the qualification round. Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C. – the Crystal Globe winner as World Cup champion – was 23rd and Mariannick Therer, of Saint-Sauveur, Que., was 27th. On the women’s side, only the top 16 advanced.