VANCOUVER â€”Â For young Chris Robanske, Fridayâ€™s World Cup snowboardcross season-opener in Telluride, Colo., was his first experience in racing in crowded and crazy six-man heats.
As the seventh-fastest qualifier, the 21-year-old from Calgary had a chance to watch some early heats in the first round before he had to step into the start gate.
â€œI was like â€˜Oh my gosh, that looks horrible,â€™ â€� he said in a telephone interview. â€œPeople were flying everywhere.â€�
Robanske composed himself enough to grab the holeshot and take the win in his heat â€” the Top 3 advance â€” and then, surprisingly, just kept rolling. Second in the quarter-finals and second in his semifinal, he breezed to a second-place finish behind French rider Pierre Vaultier in the final for the first podium of his career.
â€œI didnâ€™t put any expectations on myself,â€� said Robanske, who missed most of last season after he compressed two of his vertebrae in a crash at X Games in January.
â€œI just went out there and had a blast. It couldnâ€™t have gone any better.â€�
It didnâ€™t go nearly as well for top qualifier Rob Fagan, a Cranbrook native. He won his opening heat, but was disqualified in the quarter-finals.
On the womenâ€™s side, veteran Dominique Maltais of Montreal finished second to American Lindsey Jacobellis, while reigning Olympic champion MaÃ«lle Ricker of North Vancouver was fifth.
Robanske had made 10 previous World Cup starts over the last two seasons, with his best being 18th and 19th in back-to-back races in Lech am Arlberg, Austria, in early January.
After the crash at X Games, he was off snow until April and didnâ€™t start pushing himself until a September camp at Mt. Hood, Ore.
To qualify seventh in the field of 68 was â€œshocking,â€� he said. And to reach the podium means a re-assessment of his goals.
â€œI was kind of modest in my goals. I wanted to place in the Top 16 of every event, get some Top eights in most events. To come out of here with a second, itâ€™s like â€˜Why canâ€™t I be in the finals every race?â€™
â€œI just like to keep it calm and relaxed, be confident, but not over confident.â€�
Fridayâ€™s race was just the second-ever World Cup to feature six-rider heats.
Traditionally, competitors have raced in four-man heats, but the six-rider format â€” more elbow-to-elbow racing and potential mayhem â€” is likely to be used at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
â€œEveryone was hitting each other … bottlenecking into the berms,â€� said Robanske. â€œEveryone was wild. It was cool.â€�
Robanske was fourth into the first berm in Fridayâ€™s final, then made a couple of passes before settling in behind Vaultier.
â€œPierre was a little too technical, too fast. It was incredible just watching the way he rides.â€�
Maltaisâ€™ second-place finish marked her 25th podium in 55 career World Cup starts. But she was bemoaning a missed takeoff over the first jump that allowed Jacobellis to take the lead in the final.
â€œI went really high and landed really far down and Lindsey went past. I tried twice to pass her after that, but it didnâ€™t work.â€�
HUDEC EARNS TOP 10: Jan Hudec, whose alpine ski career has been derailed several times over the years by injury, continued his strong start to the 2011-12 World Cup season Friday with a tie for 10th in a Super-G in Val Gardena, Italy. It was his second Top 10 in three Super-G races after opening the season with a fourth at Lake Louise, Alta.
â€œI made one big mistake from risking too much, which Iâ€™m okay with,â€� said the 30-year-old Calgarian. â€œIâ€™m moving up in the points, which is really my ultimate goal.â€�
Beat Fuez of Switzerland won the race in a time of one minute, 21.51 seconds, .30 in front of American Bode Miller. Hudec tied Klaus Kroell of Austria at 1:22.64. Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, Que., was 33rd and Robbie Dixon of Whistler 40th.
The men race a downhill today.
CANADIANS TOP QUALIFIERS: Reigning world champions Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna and Chris Del Bosco, a Vail, Colo., native now living in Montreal, were the fastest qualifiers on Friday for todayâ€™s opening World Cup ski cross races in Innichen/San Candido, Italy.
Canada put five men into the round of 32 heat racing.
Unfortunately, Brady Leman (third fastest) and Davey Barr (14th) are in the same four-man heat, while David Duncan (fourth) and Brian Bennett (29th) are together in another heat.
Only the top two from each heat advance.
On the womenâ€™s side, where just the top 16 qualified for heat racing, Marielle Thompson of Whistler (fourth fastest) and World Cup rookie Georgia Simmerling of West Vancouver (sixth) will join Serwa in the quarter-final round.
SHOOTING UP THE RANKS: Young Canadian biathletes Nathan Smith and Scott Gow, both of Calgary, finished third and fourth Friday in an IBU Biathlon Cup event in Obertilliach, Austria.
Smithâ€™s podium is just the sixth in the last decade by a Canadian on the feeder circuit to the World Cup.