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Eight races in nine weeks changes championship dynamics

Fabian Mels at the Red Bull Crashed Ice event in Finland
The 2015 Ice Cross Downhill World Championship season is unfolding as the most gruelling ever, with eight races in nine weeks.

The 2015 Ice Cross Downhill World Championship season is unfolding as the most gruelling ever with eight races in nine weeks. The competition has also become tougher than ever before with many of the top athletes training year-round and pushing the envelope to excel.

The dynamics of the world's fastest sport on skates have changed completely as there are now twice as many ice cross downhill races as before and a crowded calendar thanks to the introduction of the Riders Cup competition. Along with the four major Red Bull Crashed Ice stops, where the winner takes 1,000 championship points, the four new Riders Cup stops are designed to broaden the international appeal and accessibility of the sport with four additional races where the winner gets 250 points. To get ready for the most intense season in the sport's 15-year history with its eight races in a nine-week period, many of the athletes redoubled their training in the off-season and are trying to figure out the best ways to recover from the rigours of the weekly races, bounce back from injuries and cope with the jet lag.

"It's an entirely new situation with eight races in nine weeks," said Marco Dallago, of Austria, who won the 2014 title with three wins in four races spread out over two months. "It's incredibly draining this year being on the road and racing all the time for two straight months, but it's fantastic fun as well. You don't have time to recover anymore. You have to get back on the plane and fly to the next race. Physically it's more challenging than ever before and I think you'll see people running out of steam and making more mistakes towards the end of the season."

Dallago, who won three of the four races in 2014, has not been as dominant this season and is back in fourth place overall on 812.50 points – or 425 points behind the leader Kyle Croxall, of Canada. Dallago won the Riders Cup race he organised in Austria last week and took fifth in the major stop in Saint Paul as well as fifth at the Riders Cup race in the United States. But he is confident of his chances over the long haul and looking for another victory in Helsinki on Saturday. "It's become so incredibly competitive this year," he said. "There are so many people in the field who are capable of winning a race. It's an amazing season."

American Cameron Naasz, who won the Riders Cup stop in Minnesota and was fourth in Saint Paul, is also enjoying the challenges of weekly races and said the season will separate those who prepared well in the off-season from those who didn't.

"It's awesome having twice as many races this year because it gives us more chances to compete and to get so many more people involved around the world," said Naasz. He said it's definitely more draining having a race almost every weekend, but dismisses the notion that it's more difficult to recover: "Not if you trained hard in the off-season. If you did, it's not hard to recover. I'm usually feeling beat up until Tuesday, but I feel great again by Wednesday. I did tons of training last summer and it's paying off." Naasz said he has discovered one hardship of all the travel and weekly races on two continents: "I need to do my laundry."

Germany's Fabian Mels (pictured, above) said he also worked hard during the summer and spent a lot of time studying videos for keys to improving his performances and especially his starts, in order to get ready for twice as many races in his fifth racing season. "If you didn't train hard in the off-season, you're going to be in trouble this year. It's really interesting and exciting but also draining too, especially all the jet lag. You have to train hard because the other guys are getting better every year too. There's no standing still in this sport."

Paavo Klintrup, a Finnish police officer from Oulu, is now racing in his ninth season and is in 12th place overall. He is also adjusting to the gruelling race calendar. "It's good for the sport to have so many more races this year. I trained hard in the summer on my skates and went running to boost my stamina. It's rough to travel so much, but a lot of fun too." Klintrup said he was fortunate that his boss at his police station in northern Finland is a fan of ice cross downhill and let him use his annual vacation to take two months off to race. "My boss is very understanding," he said. "He likes the sport. But I won't have a summer holiday this year."

For more on the event in Finland, visit redbullcrashedice.com/helsinki.