The third stop of this season’s World Para Snowboard World Cup begins on Friday (30 November) in Pyha, Finland, with athletes taking on snowboard-cross for the first time.
As the site of the 2019 World Championships, Pyha has drawn some of the sport’s top names who will make their first appearance since the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games and get a taste of what the course has to offer.
They include many US riders, highlighted by reigning Paralympic champion Mike Schultz. Schultz enters with high expectations after winning the men’s SB-LL1 category in March. After also winning the overall World Cup crystal globe last season, the 37-year-old is still missing something on his resume – a World Championship title.
The USA’s Noah Elliott had an outstanding Games debut in PyeongChang, where he joined Schultz on the podium with the bronze. But both will have to hold off Netherlands’ Chris Vos.
The 20-year-old already has two World Cups under his belt and has every intention of keeping that winning streak going; Vos won all four banked slalom races in Landgraaf, Netherlands; and Dubai, UAE, earlier this month.
The 2017 world champion Mike Minor is another season debutant to watch for in Pyha. But as PyeongChang 2018 showed, snowboard-cross is unpredictable. US rider Minor, a heavy gold medal favourite, crashed out in the semi-final and had to settle for bronze.
Italy’s Manuel Pozzerle captured the silver medal at the 2018 Games and will also get his first taste of competition this season.
Australia’s reigning Paralympic champion Simon Patmore and Patrick Mayrhofer of Austria both raced in Landgraaf and Dubai. But the Pyha World Cup will be their first test outdoors.
It is Mayrhofer, with three World Cup wins so far, who carries the best momentum in the men’s SB-UL.
Matti Suur-Hamari knows his home course inside and out, giving the snowboard-cross SB-LL2 Paralympic champion an advantage.
The Finn was stunned twice in Landgraaf by China’s Sun Qi. Sun may be absent in Pyha, but Suur-Hamari will still have to hold off Australian teenager Ben Tudhope and Canada’s Alex Massie – both of whom he has already competed against this season.
“Ben Tudhope has been training a lot,” Suur-Hamari said. “He’s 18 now and not that little anymore. He has been doing a really good job. Alex Massie has been training a lot too. I think these two guys can be the surprising athletes in the snowboard-cross.”
The USA’s Keith Gabel will also challenge, just as he did against the Finn in the PyeongChang 2018 final.
Women to watch
The Netherlands continue to send a strong contingent, with Lisa Bunschoten, Renske van Beek and Anne Garttener pushing each other in the SB-LL2 category. Bunschoten has won three of her four banked slalom World Cup races, with Garttener owning one gold from Dubai.
Poland’s Monika Aleksandra Kotzian is a new talent to watch for in the women’s SB-UL, and she competes in her second World Cup this year, third career overall.
The competition runs until Saturday (1 December) and live results will be available on World Para Snowboard’s website