Reflecting the heightened level of competition in this year's Ice Cross Downhill World Championship season, there have been six different winners in the seven stops so far with only American Cameron Naasz managing to win two races. Naasz won the Red Bull Crashed Ice season opener in Marseille, France as well as the Riders Cup race in La Sarre, Canada. Unlike in past championship seasons when a dominant racer emerged like Arttu Pihlainen of Finland (3 wins in 2011), Marco Dallago of Austria (3 wins in 2014) or Naasz (3 wins in 2016), this season's title fight has been wide open from the start without any clear-cut favorite.
As a result of that remarkable balance at the top in the world's fastest sport on skates, it should come as no great surprise that four of those race winners still have a chance to win the overall championship going into the final race of the season on March 3-4 in Ottawa, Canada. Naasz, Maxwell Dunne (USA), Scott Croxall (CAN) and Dallago can all still win the title going into the season finale – the first time the battle has been as wide open.
The three-month-long 2016/17 season began in Austria on December 10, where Dallago got his comeback campaign off to a flying start at the Riders Cup race in Wagrain-Kleinarl with a thumping victory worth 250 championship points on his home track. Dallago, in the best shape of his life after training hard in the off-season, clearly showed how determined he was to bounce back strongly after frustrating, injury-plagued seasons in 2015 and 2016. He nearly got eliminated in an early round but roared back from the back of the pack to win not only that heat but also the race.
Reigning world champion Naasz then got his title defense up and running with a convincing victory and 1,000 points in the first Red Bull Crashed Ice race of the season in the French port city of Marseille, a spectacular new location on the rim of the Mediterranean Sea for a race on ice that was possible thanks to technology breakthroughs and powerful cooling machines that kept the surface frozen despite temperatures well above freezing. Naasz actually won the final in Marseille twice when it had to be repeated because his gate opened a split second too early and his resounding victory in both runs underscored his determination to become the first athlete in the sport's history to win back-to-back championships.
One of these four men will win become world champion in Ottawa this weekend - (L-R) Maxwell Dunne, Scott Croxall, Marco Dallago and Cameron Naasz. Photo: Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool.
Scott Croxall, the 2015 champion, demonstrated he is a force to be reckoned with in any championship and scored an emphatic victory in the second Red Bull Crashed Ice race of the season in Jväskylä, Finland on January 21. It was incredibly Croxall's third straight Red Bull Crashed Ice race win in Finland, a country that he has come to love like his native Canada after so much success in the far north. Dunne got his second straight second-place finish, Naasz slipped to third and Dallago took fifth as the overall title battle tightened.
A week later it was Jim De Paoli of Switzerland's turn to win his first-ever race with a victory in a Riders Cup race in Rautalampi, Finland worth 250 points. The veteran has been a top 10 racer for years but had never won a race before. The battle for second place was one of the most exciting this season with Dunne just edging Naasz in a photo finish – Dunne's third straight second place finish that thrust him to the top of the world championship standings.
The third Riders Cup race of the season took place in Moscow on February 4, where German Titov of Russia overcame a groin injury to lead a Russian 1-2-3 sweep of the podium. Using his quick starts to full advantage, Titov finished in front of Denis Novozhilov in second place and Dmitriy Murlichkin in third in a race that attracted many European riders on the same weekend as the third Red Bull Crashed Ice race of the season in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
When the championship moved from Europe to North America eight hours later on February 4 for the second half of the season, Naasz reclaimed the overall lead with another solid third place finish on home ice in Saint Paul and Dunne fell off the pace with a disappointing seventh place at home. Canada's Dean Moriarity won the first Red Bull Crashed Ice race of his career with a spirited victory in front of another enormous Saint Paul crowd with some clutch skating at the finish while Dallago came roaring back from a distant fourth place in the final race to grab a close second in the frantic final meters of the race. Naasz and Kyle Croxall crashed into each other just before the line and watched helplessly as Dallago scampered past them. Saint Paul will also be remembered for the bruising semi-final battle pitting two pairs of brothers against each other: Marco and Luca Dallago versus Kyle and Scott Croxall. After an ill-tempered race at high speeds, Luca and Marco finished first and second with Kyle third and Scott fourth. But Luca was later disqualified for tangling with Scott in a tight turn near the start and was then blind-sided by an angry Scott Croxall in the finish area.
Two weeks later Naasz got his second win of the season and first Riders Cup victory, worth 250 points, with an easy win in La Sarre, Canada that took him to 2,600 points. That Dunne, who was fifth, and Scott Croxall, who took fourth, failed to make it to the podium gave Naasz some breathing room at the top of the standings. But Naasz will still need to finish ahead of both in order to win the title in Ottawa and carve his name into the record books as the first back-to-back winner of the Ice Cross World Championship.
Watch it Live
Red Bull Crashed Ice Ottawa will broadcast LIVE on redbullcrashedice.com and Red Bull TV on March 4th at 8.30 PM EST (1:30 AM GMT).
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If you miss the event or simply want to watch all the action again, the replay will be available on demand a few minutes after the event.