Paralympic stars are back in action as the World Para Snowboard World Cup picks up on Tuesday (5 February) in Big White, Canada, with snowboard-cross races.
A strong US team heads the line-up, with the much-anticipated 2018/19 debut of Brenna Huckaby.
The Paralympic champion is expected to light up the women’s SB-LL1 category after going one-two in their last race – the PyeongChang 2018 Games.
Huckaby captured the golden honours in snowboard-cross at PyeongChang 2018, beating her compatriot and Sochi 2014 bronze medallist Purdy.
The Paralympic title coupled well with Huckaby’s 2017 World Championship victory and 2017/18 World Cup overall crystal globe. Now, the snowboard sensation can display her form ahead of March’s World Championships in Pyha, Finland.
The return of Huckaby will put France’s Cecile Hernandez to the test. The PyeongChang bronze medallist has enjoyed a strong season so far, winning all her races including both cross events at the last World Cup in November.
Wait is over
The return, however, is perhaps more dramatic for France’s Maxime Montaggioni.
After an injury during training in PyeongChang crushed his Paralympic dreams, Montaggioni is back on competitive snow for the first time in a year.
The French rider had an outstanding 2017/18 season that saw him win a pair of medals at the 2017 Worlds – silver in the men’s snowboard-cross SB-UL – as well as the overall World Cup crystal title.
But he will have to fend off US rival and reigning world champion Mike Minor, plus Australia’s PyeongChang 2018 winner Simon Patmore.
Home snow advantage
Following up from the historic four-way snowboard-cross at November’s World Cup in Pyha, the men’s SB-LL2 category is looking stiff.
Finland’s Matti Suur-Hamari is coming off double gold from his home World Cup, with one of his victories happening despite a high fever. Expected to be fully fit in Big White, Suur-Hamari will be the man to beat.
But this time, the home-snow advantage plays in Alex Massie’s favour. He enjoyed a NorAm victory last week, and after finishing second to Suur-Hamari in Pyha, the Canadian knows he is not far off upsetting the PyeongChang 2018 champion.
Australia’s Ben Tudhope should not be counted out. The 20-year-old also finished runner-up to Suur-Hamari in Pyha. He has proven his speed in banked slalom this season with wins at the Dubai World Cup and would want to add a snowboard-cross gold.
All sorts of experiences
The men’s SB-LL1 category is perhaps the most unpredictable. The USA’s reigning Paralympic champion Mike Schultz is determined to add his first world title to his collection. He holds a victory from Pyha, but compatriot Noah Elliott is getting his second complete season underway and is a proven medal contender.
The Netherlands’ Chris Vos might be younger than the two US riders, but the multi-world champion has more experience and should never be underestimated.
Who can stop Bunschoten?
Lisa Bunschoten will perhaps meet her toughest test in the women’s SB-LL2.
The Dutch rider has been pretty much unstoppable this season, with her only non-first-place result being a banked slalom race at the season-opening World Cup in Dubai, UAE.
Her compatriot Renske van Beek and Spain’s Astrid Fina Paredes have each fallen short of beating Bunschoten this season but hope Big White will be different.
The USA’s Brittani Coury tested the Big White course at the earlier NorAm competition from 30-31 January, as she took the win and would hope that result carries over.
The Big White World Cup runs until 7 February and will feature 51 athletes from 15 countries compete. Live results will be available on World Para Snowboard’s website.