Duncan slams back to back ski cross World Cup wins

Dave Duncan had to wait five years for his first World Cup victory but only another 24 hours for his second as he claimed back-to-back wins in Innichen-San Candido, Italy, while Marielle Thompson was second on Sunday to make it five podiums in two days for the Canadian ski cross team.

Brady Leman – who was third in Saturday’s Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup race – looked on course for second place in Sunday’s men’s final before a mid-air collision pushed him out of bounds and into fourth, while Kelsey Serwa, who was second on Saturday, won Sunday’s women’s small final to finish fifth.

An incredible weekend of racing ended with Duncan and Thompson claiming red bibs as the leaders of the overall men’s and women’s World Cup rankings, while Canada moved into second place in the Nations’ Cup standings.

With alpine star Jan Hudec finishing second in men’s super-G and Erik Guay winning the downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, that’s seven podiums in three days for Alpine Canada racers.

“It’s an incredible feeling and I struggle for words to truly describe how much it means to me to get that first win and not to have to wait 24 hours to get a second one in,” said the London, Ont., native, who also punched his ticket to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games with a pair of World Cup wins and said he’d received an email describing his weekend that read: “From the outhouse to the penthouse.”

“This is the stuff you dream of,” added Duncan, who made his ski cross World Cup debut in 2008 as one of the original members of the Canadian team. “You never really expect it to happen, even though you work your butt off for it. Everything kind of went my way.

“To be able to put the Sochi qualification behind me before Christmas . . . It will definitely take a lot of pressure off for those last three qualifying races in January.”

Duncan, who was third in the qualifying round Sunday, was strong out of the start gate all weekend and won his first two heats Sunday before holding off Swiss star Alex Fiva in the semifinal to place second and make it through to the final four for the second straight day. Duncan had another good start in the men’s final but found himself behind Germany’s Daniel Bohnacker at the first turn.

“Out of the gate I had a pretty good start but Bohnacker was a little quicker and had position,” Duncan said. “He made a mistake on turn four, the compression. I took a better line and carried a lot more speed out of the turn, used the draft to my advantage and kind of slingshot by him. Brady was charging for second place and on another day we would have had two Canadians on the podium.”

Leman, of Calgary, Alta., had to battle his way through the rounds Sunday and appeared poised for a second straight podium when he moved from fourth into third place. But he got involved in a huge fight with Austria’s Andy Matt for second place, which resulted in a mid-air collision off the last jump that pushed Leman out of bounds. He ended up finishing fourth.

“In the final I was battling trying to move up. I was really battling with Andy Matt and kind of got tangled up going into the last gate and that was it,” Leman said. “This (weekend’s results) is where we feel like we can be and I still feel we can be better.

“Everyone on the team wants to be in the final. It’s a lofty goal but it’s where we kind of expect ourselves to be. It was exciting to see ‘Dunc’ step up so big and take the two wins. He’s always raced well here and I’ve done well here in the past, too. It’s cool with the team owning the board on the happy end, instead of the losing end.”

On the back of Sunday’s results, Duncan leads the individual men’s ski cross World Cup standings with 214 points, with Matt sitting second (205) and Leman third (170).

Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., advanced past the first round before running into trouble in his quarter-final. He made a good pass to move up and was building speed for another pass before he skied over a pole and almost went out. He finished 10th on the day.

Chris Del Bosco, of Montreal, Que., was 19th in the qualification round but was unlucky once again when the racer in front of him went down in the round of 32 heat and Del Bosco had nowhere to go. Del Bosco placed 15th. Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., and Mathieu Leduc, of Comox, B.C., did not advance past the qualification round.

The women’s races were equally exciting, with Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., using her hot starts to power herself into the women’s final.

“Today was awesome. I won every start and really showed where my skiing is at,” said Thompson, who was eighth in the morning’s qualification round. “I got a fast start in the final and I was leading probably to half way when Katrin (Mueller, of Switzerland) came in with a lot of speed and got me on the inside of a straightaway. I made a little bit of ground up on Katrin but it wasn’t enough.”

With the podium, Thompson’s second of the season following her win at the season-opener in Nakiska, Alta., the Whistlerite moves into first place in the overall ski cross World Cup rankings with 270 points, ahead of Mueller and her teammate Fanny Smith (who both have 256). Serwa sits fourth (186).

“I’m really excited to have the leader bib again,” said Thompson, who in 2012 became the first Canadian to win an individual ski cross Crystal Globe as the overall World Cup champion. “It just goes to show all the training I did this summer is paying off.”

Kelowna, B.C.’s Serwa, coming back off knee surgery for the second successive year, wrapped up a very successful weekend of racing by winning the women’s small final during a dramatic race to the line with Smith.

“I’d much rather be in the final but when I get in the small final I get all fired up and say, ‘This is my shot . . . so you’d better turn out a fifth-place finish,’ ” said Serwa, who all-but punched her ticket to Sochi with Saturday’s second-place result. “I kind of had this spot in mind (on the course) where I would go tight. I was just reeling (Smith) in all the way to the finish and I got her at the line so I’m pretty happy about that.”

Georgia Simmerling, of West Vancouver, B.C., was third in her round of 32 heat and finished 22nd overall. She likely needs a podium to secure a spot on the plane to Sochi. Danielle Sundquist, of Calgary, did not advance past the qualification round.

The Canadian ski cross team is now heading back to Canada for a break before returning to Europe for the last three World Cup stops left on the calendar prior to Sochi. Duncan, Leman and Thompson are all Sochi-bound after meeting the ‘Tier A’ qualification criteria for nomination to Canada’s team for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Serwa is also all-but guaranteed a spot after meeting the ‘Tier 2’ criteria. Sunday’s race was screened on Sportsnet earlier today.