Del Bosco wins ski cross World Cup

Chris Del Bosco returned to winning ways Thursday with victory in a ski cross World Cup race in Val Thorens, France, that was halted after the first round of heats due to strong winds.

Del Bosco, who famously finished fourth at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games when he crashed while going for gold, went into the first of two crucial back-to-back races needing a podium to all but punch his ticket to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games after a challenging start to his 2013-14 campaign. It’s not clear at this point if Thursday’s results will count towards Olympic qualification, but Del Bosco will get another chance Friday in the second of two back-to-back World Cup races in France.

The 31-year-old resident of Montreal, Que., was second in the qualification round Wednesday and won his round of 32 heat with ease Thursday to advance to the quarter-finals before the race was called due to the wind. With final results based on qualification and the first heats, Del Bosco was awarded the race, while Dave Duncan, of London, Ont. – winner of the last two ski cross World Cups – was seventh.

On the women’s side, world championship silver medallist Marielle Thompson, of Whistler, B.C., placed fourth to hold onto the red bib as the overall World Cup leader, while Georgia Simmerling, of West Vancouver, B.C., was sixth. A second World Cup race – the final Olympic qualifier for Canadian racers – is due to be held on Friday.

“I definitely felt like I could have kept going. It was kind of frustrating because you want to win by winning the final but it was out of my control,” said Del Bosco, the 2011 world champion and X Games gold medallist. “There’s not really any more I could have done.

“It was getting down to crunch time and I knew what I needed to do. I needed to podium.
Sochi qualification is kind of a grey area. I don’t really know how that works – I’m going to just regroup here and get ready to give ’er again tomorrow.”

Del Bosco, historically a slow starter, has endured a tough start to his 2013-14 season, with a 15th-place finish in Innichen-San Candido, Italy, his best result prior to Thursday. He was second in the test event in Sochi, Russia, last season, so in theory just needed a podium to punch his ticket to the 2014 Games.

“This year started kind of rough for me. I knew if I just kept digging it would happen,” Del Bosco said. “I had a good day of qualifying yesterday and followed it up today with some strong skiing.”

Eric Archer, Canada’s head coach, was happy with the way his racers coped with conditions that have changed dramatically over the course of the past few days. The Canadian men and women had strong qualification rounds Wednesday and had started well Thursday before Mother Nature intervened.

“We had started the women’s quarter-finals and got through the first three when the wind picked up on the top flat. It made one of the features dangerous and they decided to call it at that point,” Archer said.

“We’ve just got to hope for a good weather window tomorrow and hopefully we can get the race off. We are skiing well. The athletes are stepping up but right now we are battling Mother Nature again.

“Del (Bosco) has had some pressure on him here – he knows the situation he’s in. He hasn’t had great results this year but he’s been very focused this week and had two very good qualifying runs. He won his heat by a long ways.”

The Olympic qualification window for ski cross closes Jan. 19, so Friday’s race represents the last chance for Canadian racers to qualify for nomination to Canada’s team for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Thompson has already met the qualification criteria for nomination, while Duncan, Brady Leman, of Calgary, Alta., and Kelsey Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C., look to have punched their tickets to Sochi based on results to date.

Duncan, gunning for a third straight win, was second in his heat and advanced. The Whistler, B.C., resident – who was 11th in the first qualification round – placed seventh overall and lost his lead in the overall World Cup standings to Austria’s Andy Matt, who has 255 points. Duncan has 250 points, while Leman – 18th Thursday – sits sixth in the standings. Tristan Tafel, of Canmore, Alta., placed 15th Thursday.

In the women’s race, Thompson won her first heat to advance to the quarter-finals, while Simmerling was second in hers and also moved forward. When the race was halted, Thompson, who was fourth fastest in the first qualification round on Wednesday, placed fourth, while Simmerling – eighth in the qualification round – was sixth.

“There were some crashes in the girls’ race before it was cancelled and one of them involved Georgia,” Archer said of the quarter-finals, which were halted after three rounds. “Georgia went down hard but she got up again, skied down and won the heat. She was ready to go back up and give ’er in the semifinal.”

Following Thursday’s results, Thompson holds on to the overall ski cross World Cup lead with 320 points. Switzerland’s Katrin Mueller sits second with 292. Kelsey Serwa, of Kelowna, B.C., is fifth in the standings, while Simmerling is seventh.

Danielle Sundquist, who was fifth-fastest in the first qualification round, did not finish her first heat and was eliminated to finish 25th overall. Serwa, the 2011 world champion, was seventh in the first qualification round but did not start Thursday’s finals.

Mathieu Leduc, of Comox, B.C., and Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., were 39th and 45th in the first qualification round, respectively, and did not advance to the finals.

The second qualification round, also held on Wednesday, saw Duncan finish second, Del Bosco sixth, Leduc 14th, Tafel 16th and Hélie 45th. Only the fastest 32 qualifiers advance to Friday’s finals. On the women’s side, Simmerling was second in the second qualification round, Thompson was sixth, Serwa was 11th and Sundquist was 12th.