FRANCE – After a disappointing start to the 2020-21 ski cross campaign, Canmore’s Kris Mahler raced to a season-best eighth-place finish at the world cup in Val Thorens, France.
Under overcast skies and icy course conditions on Sunday (Dec. 20), Mahler easily qualified to the semifinal hot on the tail of Canadian teammate Reece Howden, who would go on to claim the silver medal on the 1,280-metre course.
“Making it through all the rounds is always the goal, so it went as planned,” said Mahler in a phone interview. “It was fun to get back out on a big course skiing with the big guys. I was happy with today.”
In the semifinal, Mahler and Howden got off to quick starts, but Mahler was squeezed out before the first interval by his French competitors and Howden, who led the entire race.
Unable to recover and find an opening to pass, Mahler finished fourth in the heat settling for a spot in the small final.
“We had a bunch of wind in the morning, it was a tailwind, and that died down and adjusted our speed on the top stretch," he said.
"I couldn’t quite get the distance that I wanted with my moves over some of those features and at this level, such small margins make a big difference.”
Last season in Val Thorens, Mahler made his return to the world cup ski cross circuit after a lengthy two-year recovery from three separate injuries, racing to his first career ski cross world cup victory.
“You always think about any big successes or failures, but you really just have to focus on the current day and stick to the plan,” he said.
Banff’s Zach Belczyk entered Val Thorens in eighth position in the world cup standings after a pair of top 10 finishes in Arosa, Switzerland earlier in the week.
After an even start between each skier in the 1/8 final heat, Belczyk fell to third position and was unable to get past Germany’s Cornel Renn, finishing in 17th overall.
After three events this season, Belczyk has not finished outside the top 20 and is looking to continue that trend on Monday.
With the second-place finish in Val Thorens, Howden now sits in second in the world cup standings, followed by Belczyk who dropped to 12th and Mahler who climbed into 25th overall.
The first of two legs of the World Cup in Val Thorens was cancelled on Saturday (Dec. 19) due to strong winds at the popular French resort and was rescheduled for Monday (Dec. 21).
“Guys have had some time on track now so the heats are going to be that much tougher," Mahler said.
"I’m going to watch video here tonight to kind of get my game plan down for tomorrow.
“I’ve got some spots I definitely want to clean up and have some areas I found some speed in that I can capitalize on.”