With Olympic gold, victories at the Winter X Games and overall World Cup titles already to her name, a world championship in women’s snowboard cross was one of the few major accomplishments left for Maëlle Ricker to complete.
The Sea to Sky rider did exactly that on Saturday (Jan. 26) at Quebec’s Stoneham Mountain Resort, taking top spot in a one-two finish with Canadian teammate Dominique Maltais at the FIS World Snowboard Championships for her first world title.
“It was definitely on the bucket list and I was running out of time,” laughed the 34-year-old on Monday (Jan. 28). “I managed to slide it in under the wire there.
“I was definitely looking to step on top of the podium there on Saturday and I’m really glad it all came together.”
Ricker has been tough to beat at Stoneham over the past few seasons — earning World Cup wins there in each of her previous two appearances — and it was no different during the world championships. The Squamish resident finished first in qualifications last Thursday (Jan. 24), and advanced to Saturday’s final by winning both her quarter- and semifinal heats.
“We talked a lot about strategy over the week with my coach and one thing that was definitely emphasized was having really good starts and really clean top sections on the course,” said Ricker, who said the fastest and most technical riding at Stoneham came right after of the start gate. “I’m happy I was able to stay focused on that section and just keep riding my lines through the finish and controlling the race that was behind me.”
Maltais was the second-fastest qualifier and won her first two heats before taking the runner-up spot behind Ricker in the final. Norway’s Helene Olafsen captured the bronze medal.
Kelowna’s Jade Critchlow finished 21st and Whistler’s Carle Brenneman finished 24th. Brenneman was scheduled to race in a quarter-final with Ricker, but did not start due to a bruised heel suffered in the qualifiers.
Squamish’s Rob Fagan had the top Canadian finish in the men’s race, placing eighth, while Calgary’s Christopher Robanske wound up 12th. Australia’s Alex Pullin won gold.
Ricker said the Canadian team effort has been tremendous, and she didn’t mean just the athletes, crediting coaches, training and medical personnel and even those working in the Canada Snowboard offices for helping the national program to continued success.
“It’s a huge, unified team that’s always pushing the level,” she said. “It’s a really exciting time to be part of the Canadian snowboard cross team.”
With the victory, Ricker cemented a berth to the 2014 Olympics. She’s happy to know well in advance that she’ll be there to try an repeat her gold-medal performance from 2010.
“It’s just one less thing to think about. You never want to be thinking about results, (the requirements of) qualification or all of the numbers,” she said. “You want to, as much as possible, be focused on the riding and improving and pushing the level, instead of having to do math to try and figure out what numbers you need, right down to the wire next January.”
But a world championship title isn’t enough to convince Ricker she’s destined to find the Olympic podium again.
“Sochi is a very different style of track than Stoneham, and it’s one that doesn’t play to my strengths, so I have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I definitely have to improve technically in some areas of my racing in order to defend my title.”
The Canadian team remains at home for World Cup racing this weekend, as Ontario’s Blue Mountain hosts the circuit’s next event on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 1 and 2). It’s the last World Cup race before the Olympic test event at Sochi in mid-February.