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Snowboard crosser Bichon bringing his best to Siberian slopes

Cold days bringing hot results for World Cup veteran, one of three P.G. athletes on the tour

The air was a crisp -27 C Saturday morning when Evan Bichon began his day on the World Cup snowboard cross circuit in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Having grown up in Prince George and Mackenzie, the 23-year-old Bichon is no stranger to the cold of winter and as he proved later on that day in his races, he was generating plenty of heat from the bottom of his board sliding down those Siberian slopes.

Bichon cruised to a career-high 12th-place finish in the first of two races this weekend at Krasnoyarsk. He qualified 23rd on Friday and went on to better his previous best 25th-place World Cup finish, set last March in Bakuriani, Georgia.

Bichon finished second in his eighth-final heat and in the quarter-finals he was still in the hunt for another top-two finish near the bottom of the course but collided with Australian Cameron Bolton and lost his speed. Bichon finished third and was eliminated.

“Today was a lot of fun, I had a blast out there,” said Bichon. “The conditions were really good. The snow is all man-made, but it’s firm and grippy so it’s nice for racing. It’s quite cold.

“I really like this course, compared to the last two we’ve been on. It has real boarder cross banks, which we haven’t had for awhile and it’s a really fair course for everybody and there’s lots of places for drafting and different areas where they built speed in and I’m using that to my advantage. Just racing smart helped today. I’m really happy.”

Martin Noerl of Germany edged Merlin Surget of France and Julian Lueftner of Austria for top spot on the medal podium. Eliot Grondin of St. Marie, Que., the top men’s qualifier, finished fifth.

Charlotte Bankes of Great Britain won her third of four races this season to take the women’s crown. Chloe Trespeuch of France and American Lindsey Jacobellis took silver and bronze respectively. Audrey McManiman of St. Ambrose de Kildare, Que., was sixth and Tess Critchlow of Kelowna finished seventh.

Bichon hadn’t been able to get past the qualifying round in any of the three previous tour stops this season. In the men’s field, a top-32 finish is needed to advance to the heats. The women’s field typically has about half as many racers entered and only the top-16 advance from qualifying.

“This season stated out a bit rocky,” said Bichon. “I got close in Italy in Cervinia, being only 0.6 of a second off. But it really worked out for me here.  In training, everything just clicked riding this course  and I felt really strong smooth and fast throughout the course and it really showed in qualifying.”

Prince George natives Meryeta O’Dine and Colby Graham are also on the World Cup tour. O’Dine was 19th in qualifying in a field of 33, while Graham placed 40th out of 61. Neither advanced to the heats.

O’Dine, 24, had a strong showing in Montafon, Austria, where she qualified third and finished fourth in the race, Dec. 10. That result puts her in good position to claim one of the four Olympic team spots open to the Canadian women. O’Dine was on the 2018 Olympic team in PyeongChang but suffered a concussion in a training run and did not get to race.

Just two men will make the team. Grandin is assured of his Olympic spot after winning silver in Cervinia, Dec. 18.  As of Saturday, Kevin Hill of Vernon or Liam Moffatt of Truro, N.S. are the most likely to join Grondin in Beijing next month.

Bichon, Graham and O’Dine will be racing again Sunday and there’s no qualifying round, they’ll go straight to heats. Live coverage is available on the CBC Sports streaming app ( with coverage beginning Saturday at 9 p.m. PT.

The team will be picked following Sunday’s races and Bichon says he would have to post a top-eight  or podium finish to have a shot at making it.

The three P.G. connections have been in Europe traveling and living together since October, when they started high-altitude training with Canadian team head coach Jean Francois Menard in Saas Fee, Switzerland. After races in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, Jan. 28-29, depending on their Olympic status, they plan to come back to Prince George for some home-cooking before the only Canadian World Cup race of the season in Mount St. Anne, Que, Feb. 25-27.

“We’ve stayed over here since the beginning of October just to avoid any additional flying, with COVID and stuff like that, so we’ve been our own little family the last while and it’s been great, especially with two people I get along with really well,” said Bichon.

“Every day’s a grind and you have to work really hard to get those little improvements because that’s what’s going to get you better results.”

Aside from hurting his rib in a fall in Montafon, Bichon has stayed injury-free, as has O’Dine. The 19-year-old Graham broke his tailbone in a fall in training but made a quick recovery and was able to compete in the season-opening race on the Olympic course in Secret Garden, China.

Bichon, who starting racing World Cups in 2016, figures he’s been tested for COVID about 70 times over the past two seasons and he’s so far avoided the virus. The athletes get tested every two days.

“Up until Italy and Russia, athletes have stayed away from it pretty well,” said Bichon. “There were some positive cases in Italy, and there’s been a few here, so we’re all staying in our own little bubbles quite diligently.”