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 semi-final 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 bug guys. I was happy with today.”
In the semi-final, 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 finish 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. 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.
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).
Both Mahler and Belczyk failed to qualify in the top 32 skiers to advance to the 1/8 final. Once again Howden, racing in his first full-time season was the top Canadian man, finishing on top of the podium for the second time in his young career. After a second and first place finish in Val Thorens, Howden leads the World Cup standings, while Belczyk sits in 17 and Mahler in 29 overall.
With the Christmas break ahead, and no event until Jan. 15 in Montafon, Austria, the Canadian ski cross team will look to regroup after the whirlwind start to the season.
“This season already has been a little draining mentally, especially seeing some of the races get cancelled one by one and having races be rescheduled. Our team is amazing and we’ve been able to work through this season together, and we will continue to rely on each other for the rest of the season,” said Belczyk.