The overall World Para Alpine World Cup winners of the season will be decided in the last two slalom races in Morzine, France, with all of the main contenders present at the starting gates in a final push for the coveted titles.
The three-day competition, which will take place on Morzine’s Le Stade course from 19-21 March, will open with a team event followed by the slalom racing.
The team event will feature 10 groups of athletes and will serve as a test of the format ahead of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
Smells like teen spirit
The tense rivalry between Norway’s Jesper Pedersen and Netherlands’ Jeroen Kampschreur in the men’s sitting class has been one of the most captivating this season.
Pedersen took a lead in the overall World Cup standings early on with two victories in the season’s opener in Zagreb, Croatia, but Kampschreur beat him in all races at the 2019 World Para Alpine Skiing Championships, which he finished with a perfect golden streak.
Coming into the finals in Morzine, the two 19-year-olds are only 39 points apart and ready to settle the score on the slalom course.
Kampschreur is a double world champion in the discipline, but he suffered an untimely setback at the last World Cup in La Molina, Spain where he was unable to finish the first slalom race - his first DNF in an otherwise podium-filled season.
Pedersen is the world silver medallist and quickly becoming recognised as a slalom specialist. He took the win in the first race in La Molina, but Kampschreur retaliated with a victory the next day and still has a chance for a last-minute takeover in the overall standings.
“When I’m racing, the globe is not on my mind,” Kampschreur said. “It’s only on my mind when I finish and I look, ‘OK, where am I? Where is Jesper? What’s the points difference?’.”
Tight at the top
Another close rivalry will play out in the women’s vision impaired class where the two top pairs have a mere 20-point difference in the overall rankings.
Great Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick and guide Jennifer Kehoe are in the lead, with Australia’s Melissa Perrine and guide Bobbi Kelly a close second.
Fitzpatrick and Kehoe have struggled in the slalom competition in La Molina, placing last in both races, but a few days of much-needed rest could give the Paralympic champions the energy they need to keep their Australian rivals at bay.
Fitzpatrick will also have the added advantage of being very familiar with the race track at the French ski resort.
“I grew up skiing in Les Gets and Morzine so I know the slopes pretty well,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that she is looking forward to skiing the softer slope in France as compared to the harder and shadowy slope that challenged her senses in La Molina.
While the Paralympic champions are trying to finish the season off on a high, there is also much at stake for Perrine, who is taking a sabbatical after this season.
France’s darlings Marie Bochet and Arthur Bauchet will have the added pressure of delivering victory celebrations to the spectators at the home World Cup in Morzine.
Nearly double the ranking points of the runner-up, Bochet has already guaranteed herself an overall World Cup win in the women’s standing class. The question that remains is whether she can extend her undefeated season to the last two races at the World Cup finals.
And while Bochet has a dominant lead overall, Canada’s Frederique Turgeon still leads in the slalom rankings thanks to her two victories in Zagreb, which Bochet missed, and two silvers in La Molina.
The quest for the slalom crystal globe is even less certain for Bochet’s teammate. Arthur Bauchet currently leads the men’s standing overall with 980 points but is only seventh in the slalom rankings after failing to finish the second race in La Molina.
Slalom leaders Martin Wuerz of Austria and USA’s Thomas Walsh will be in full battle mode in La Molina to keep the world champion from collecting any more points.
“That slalom globe’s up for grabs,” Walsh said. “Martin and I are only 10 points away so it will be a duel to the end and this is the kind of battle that I enjoy.”
War of world champions
In a season dominated by giant slalom racing, the world champion in the discipline Momoka Muraoka currently tops the overall World Cup rankings in women’s sitting with 1070 points.
But slalom is the specialty of her chief rival, slalom world champion Anna-Lena Forster, who is quickly closing the gap in the rankings thanks to her two victories in La Molina. Two more victories in Morzine could bump the German sit skier’s points from 950 to an overall win, which would be an extra boost to her already ample medal haul since January.
“This season the focus was on the World Championships, so it’s not that important for me, but it would be a nice bonus,” Forster said.
Slovakia’s Miroslav Haraus and his guide Maros Hudik are all but assured an overall win in the men’s vision impaired class after consistent performances across all disciplines this season. They are also leading in the overall rankings for slalom, which is Haraus’ favourite discipline.
While Haraus forges ahead to the crystal globes, his teammate Marek Kubacka will be on a quest of his own in Morzine. The overall giant slalom winner was unable to finish any slalom races this season, but a new slope and a last-race surge of adrenaline might be just the thing to break that lacklustre streak.
You can watch the competition on the World Para Alpine Skiing website and Facebook page with live results also available.