Take two French skiers who also play hockey, introduce them to the sport of Ice Cross Downhill and add a summer's worth of intense training and – presto! – you get two of the world's best downhill racers. Tristan Dugerdil and Pacôme Schmitt of France have used that recipe to zoom their way from walk-on neophytes towards the top of the standings going into the final Red Bull Crashed Ice race of the 2015/16 season.
The best European racer on the tour this year, Dugerdil, is in fourth place overall in the Ice Cross Downhill World Championship thanks to three podiums in the Riders Cup races and Schmitt is in sixth place overall after taking a career-best second place at the last Red Bull Crashed Ice race in Jyväskylä-Laajis, Finland. Austria's Luca Dallago is the second-best European in fifth place.
"We saw videos of some earlier races while we were playing hockey in Geneva and it was like a dream sport combining of the two things I love – skiing and hockey," said Schmitt, who with Dugerdil took part in their first race in nearby Lausanne, Switzerland in 2013. "I've been skiing since I was one year old, since I could first walk, because my mother was a ski instructor and I've been playing hockey since I was four so this sport was the perfect combination."
Schmitt celebrates on the podium in Jyväskylä-Laajis after taking a career-best second place. Photo: Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool.
Dugerdil and Schmitt believe Ice Cross Downhill is on the verge of becoming hugely popular in France. Despite a heavy snowstorm, there were some 2,000 spectators at the first-ever race in France, the Riders Cup race in Avoriaz last month, and the media coverage of the sport has become intense with widespread TV and newspaper coverage. Documentary films were even made on the sport, he said.
"It's a good sport for French guys," said Dugerdil, whose best result this season was second place at the Riders Cup race in Sherbrooke, Canada. "A lot of friends and people in France want to get into the sport. We need more French guys on the tour. The Riders Cup race in France will help grow the sport a lot."
Both were solid middle-of-the-pack racers with talent and promise last season but burst into the limelight this season after a grueling training regime in the French Alps in the off-season. They trained together in about 12 workouts a week of more than 15 hours in total, in the gym and on rollerblades. The hard work paid off this season as they have become two of the most feared races, especially on long and challenging tracks.
"I had some good time trial times last year before the races but fell a lot in the semi-finals when the track was crowded," said Dugerdil. "This year I feel more confident and it helps a lot to be good on these tough tracks. I feel better and stronger this year. I've done well in the Riders Cup races with the three podiums but unfortunately there aren't as many championship points for that," added Dugerdil, who was third overall in the six-race Riders Cup series where the winner gets 250 points – or just one-fourth as many as the winner of the Red Bull Crashed Ice races.
Dugerdil's best results this season have come in the Riders Cup. Photo: Keno Derleyn / Red Bull Content Pool.
Schmitt, who says he and Dugerdil have a competitive rivalry on the track despite being Alpine Rockets teammates in the team competition, said that the hard work off season was the key to their success this winter. "From the beginning we knew that we were within reach of the top guys in this sport and that there wasn't much that was missing," he said. "So we decided to train really hard this year and see what we could do," he added with a smile.
WATCH IT LIVE: Red Bull Crashed Ice Saint Paul will broadcast live on redbullcrashedice.com and Red Bull TV at 7:45pm MST (2.45am CET) on February 27 and will be available on demand immediately after the competition. Red Bull TV is available on connected TVs, gaming consoles, mobile devices and more. For a full list of supported devices, visit about.redbull.tv.
For US fans, the live webcast and replay is geo-blocked in the US due to an exclusive deal with FOX Sports. The race will air on the FOX broadcast network on March 5 at 4:30pm EST. Following this, it will be available on demand at Red Bull TV.