The 2013 Red Bull Crashed Ice tour, which traditionally kicks off in mid-January, is getting off to an early start — which is precisely what its competitors will be aiming for at the world championships’ first finale Saturday night.
“My strategy is to be first out the gate and stay first for the entire course,” says finalist Scott Croxall, who finished third overall in the 2012 circuit and qualified for tonight’s final with the 14th-fastest time. “I don’t want to be bumping and grinding with anyone.”
Unlike your favourite R. Kelly video, heavy bumping and grinding is frowned upon and can result in disqualification. Although “casual contact” is acceptable (think: NASCAR drivers trading paint through a turn), don’t expect to see full-fledged body checks. Roller derby on ice this isn’t.
Pushing, pulling, holding and T-boning are all means for a DQ.
“You have to stay in your lane and try not to bump and grind too much,” Croxall explains. Which is easier said than done. “Everyone wants to finish in the top two and keep advancing, so everyone is going their hardest, giving 100 per cent every time.”
This weekend’s spectacle — its finish line distracting thousands of parka-wearing fans from a natural wonder of the world — marks the first time the ice cross downhill has been held in Niagara Falls, Ont.
For the first time in its 13-year history, the circuit has been expanded to include five races, each in a locale known for its chilly temperatures and TV-friendly scenery.
The 2013 Crashed Ice world championship tour is bookended with Canadian dates. Tonight’s Niagara race will be followed by stops in St. Paul, Minnesota; Landegraaf, Netherlands; and Lausanne, Switzerland, before culminating on March 16, when the series’ traditional finale zips through Old Quebec City.
For a quick primer to get you up to speed for tonight’s action, we answer five questions that might be on your mind….
Who wins money?
The top eight final racers all win a share of the prize money. After several elimination heats held Friday, Saturday’s 36-racer men’s event will culminate with a two final heats of four racers. All of these finalists are in the money.
The “small final” (a consolation final) features racers ranked five through eight. The “big final” is a showdown of the four fastest skaters for the stop’s top podium spot and heftiest novelty cheque.
Most of these guys are professionals. They don’t scared, do they?
“There’s always scary moments. You’re going 65 km/h on your skates into corners where you don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s part of the adrenaline rush,” Scott Croxall explains. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t get that rush. There’s no other feeling like it.”
Who are the favourites?
Defending 2012 overall champion Kyle Croxall is a Canadian from Mississauga, Ont, and is a smart bet to continue his winning ways, but he faces a determined field. The 24-year-old won the first two stops of last year’s tour and qualified sixth for tonight’s final, 0.63 seconds off the mark set by American Cameron Naasz.
Minnesota’s Naasz, an impressive rookie last year, appears poised to make the leap to Crashed Ice’s elite.
Kyle’s younger brother, Scott Croxall, is steadily improving and has been taking his training seriously, so don’t be surprised to see Scott give big bro a run for that corporate money.
Finland’s Arttu Pihlainen, winner of no less than six of these bad boys, should be out for revenge. Despite winning the last Crashed Ice race in Quebec City, he lost the tour’s overall crown to Kyle Croxall by just 40 standings points, the difference of a single finishing position in one race. Though he insists he’s only concerned with his own time, the 31-year-old veteran of the tour has experience and vengeance on his side.
“I’m not worried about anybody. Just myself,” Pihlainen says. “If I’m able to stay on my feet every race, I’ll get good results.”
What about the Canadian underdogs?
Four unseeded racers have qualified for Saturday’s showdown. One is Austria’s Marco Dallago; the other three of them are Canadian.
If you’re a fan of Cinderella stories, root for Adam Skube (11th best time in elimination), John Fisher (19th) or Daniel Guolla (26th).
Obviously, these racers are skilled athletes, but this thing is being held right next to a casino. How much does luck factor into this?
“Luck has a lot to do with it. I’ve had the worst luck out of anyone in this sport. I’ve had a broken skate blade in the final race. I’ve tripped over my skate and went headfirst over the finish line instead of feet-first and lost places like that. Down the hill full-speed, you have to know what you’re doing.”