The World Para Alpine Skiing World Cup in La Molina, Spain kicked off with two surprise winners in the giant slalom races of the men’s sitting and vision impaired classes. France’s Hyacinthe Deleplace and guide Maxime Jourdan trumped world champions Marek Kubacka and guide Maria Zatovicova in the vision impaired race, while Japan’s Taiki Morii took top spot ahead of world and Paralympic champions Jeroen Kampschreur and Jesper Pedersen in the sitting showdown.
It was a career-first World Cup victory for Deleplace and Jourdan, who made their season debut a month ago in Veysonnaz, Switzerland.
The French pair missed the 2019 World Championships and came to La Molina with modest expectations only to surprise themselves with a golden result in the first race.
“We couldn’t imagine that we could win this race,” Jourdan said after the pair clocked in two winning runs. “We wanted the podium, but to win this race is really something special.”
“I’m feeling happy,” Deleplace said. “It’s a very good day with sun, good snow and a good sensation. I can’t imagine better.”
Slovakia’s Kubacka and Zatovicova finished second while another French pair Thomas Civade and Kerwan Larmet came third.
The sun also rises
Although no stranger to gold medals, it was still a sweet victory for veteran Taiki Mori in La Molina. The 38-year-old Japanese skier was in peak form in 2013 when he won three golds at the World Championships but has since dropped out of the medal favourites.
His victory in Spain over three speedy youngsters, including world champion Kampschreur and Paralympic champion Pedersen, was a reminder that it is too early to consign his glory days to the past.
“I feel so very good,” Morii said. “This course was very soft and fast, and it was good. I’m very happy.”
Morii was 3.07 seconds faster than runner-up Niels de Langen, who celebrated his first World Cup medal. The Dutch skier has won medals at the World Championships but had a fruitless streak on the World Cup circuit, just missing the podium in multiple races.
“I was getting everything out of it,” de Langen said about his second run, which moved him up from third to second place. “I wanted to move up at least one spot and that was my mentality in the second run and I did so.”
An additional bonus was beating Kampschreur and Pedersen who have been locked in a two-man fight for top spot for most of the season.
“That feels surreal,” de Langen said. “I have only dreamt about it.”
A slip in the first run left Kampschreur in fifth place at the start of the day, but a winning second run allowed him to climb up to third place, with Pedersen finishing just off the podium.
Short race, long road
France’s Marie Bochet remains undefeated in all her races this season, starting off the six-race women’s standing campaign in La Molina with another gold.
“It’s not easy because it was a very long break,” Bochet said of returning to the snow since her last World Cup victories three weeks ago. “I made run one with less energy and not my best skiing, but after I was able to express my skiing in the second run so I’m very happy.”
Canada’s Frederique Turgeon was second while Germany’s Anna-Maria Rieder was third.
The event also saw the return of Alana Ramsay. The Canadian finished sixth in her first race since crashing during training at the World Championships.
“I was just happy that I was able to push out of the gate this morning,” said Ramsay, who ultimately finished sixth. “I froze at the gate. I burst into tears so just to get down, it was a really big thing.”
Mad about Muraoka
Japan’s Momoka Muraoka reconfirmed her status as the best in women’s sitting giant slalom when the world champion took her fourth straight victory in the discipline, making for a clean sweep in this season’s World Cup.
“This course is very good,” Muraoka said. “I imagined here to have more very wet snow, but today the course was very hard, good snow, so I got the gold medal.”
World bronze medalist Anna-Lena Forster was second while Laurie Stephens of the United States finished third.
The world and Paralympic champions butted heads in the men’s standing race once again, with world champion Arthur Bochet of France emerging as the winner on the first day of competition. His chief rival, Switzerland’s Theo Gmur, finished 13.19 seconds behind after falling in the second run.
“Theo has the weapons to do this battle, but I know I have them too. It’s war, but I won one battle today,” Bochet said. “At the start, in my head I said, ‘You have to go straight, do it like speed and keep the speed’, so I did that in the top part of the slope and it worked.”
The USA’s Thomas Walsh picked up the bronze.
Gone in 60 seconds
From sports cars to red alpine runs, speed was on the minds of Great Britain’s Menna Fitzpatrick and Jennifer Kehoe. The pair got a ride in a sports car when they stumbled on a film crew of a US car show the day before competition started and tried to channel this speed into their giant slalom race.
Although they won the first run in the women’s vision impaired, the time was not enough to beat Australians Melissa Perrine and Bobbi Kelly who took the gold by shaving 2.97 seconds off their second try.
“It was really tricky conditions out there for me. The shadows meant that I couldn’t see anything at all. It was just black about halfway down,” Fitzpatrick said. “But we skied pretty well. We were happy with our time.”
The World Cup in La Molina continues with more giant slalom racing on Tuesday (12 March). You can watch the La Molina World Cup on the World Para Alpine Skiing website and Facebook page.