MOUNT Beauty skiers Esther Bottomley and Phil Bellingham will head into the final round of the trans-Tasman cross country challenge as frontrunners.
The winter Olympians head into the 42-kilometre Kangaroo Hoppet on Sunday on top of the table — Bellingham tied with Swiss skier Valerio Leccardi and three-time Olympian Bottomley 60 points clear of her nearest rival.
Both won their freestyle sprints when the Australia-New Zealand Cup for cross country moved to Falls Creek last weekend.
But race favourite Callum Watson won’t be in the Hoppet after puncturing a lung in a fall at the weekend.
Watson was flown to Melbourne after a crash in the semi-final of the sprint with Switzerland’s Simon Hammer.
National Cross Country Ski Team spokesman Finn Marsland said Bellingham and Leccardi put on a show in both the sprint and the men’s 15-kilometre events.
“After a delay for the injury to Callum the finals resumed, and in the A-final the race soon turned into a head-to-head battle between Bellingham and Leccardi,” he said.
“Leccardi led for most of the race before Bellingham made a decisive move with 300 metres to go and held on for victory, with Paul Kovacs, from Porepunkah, third.”
The events were held using an interval start time trial format on a five-kilometre loop.
The tables were turned in the 15-kilometre event, where Bellingham took a small lead over Leccardi after the first lap in what quickly became a race in two.
Leccardi turned the deficit around on the second lap and was never headed, winning by 1:47 from Bellingham, with Swiss Reto Hammer third.