Makomanai/Sapporo (JPN). After a trip of about 20 hours or even more the participants of the 1999/2000 NOKIA Snowboard FIS World Cup checked in at Sapporo on the Northern Japanese island Hokkaido last night where the first out of two Japanese stages on the tour will be held on the coming weekend. The races will take place in Makomanai at about 40 minutes drive from Sapporo, where the Olympic village has been located during the 1972 Winter Games. More than 200 riders from 19 nations are registered for the event, featuring Parallel Giant Slalom, Halfpipe and Snowboard Cross.

The alpine riders will kick off the races on Friday, 18 February, with the season’s fifth Parallel Giant Slalom. NOKIA World Team rider Matthieu Bozzetto is leading the Parallel World Cup standings which also include the Parallel Slalom. Having claimed five wins in eight out of eleven races and a total of 5,760 points so far, the French rider looks pretty safe for the title although there is still a chance for others to close the gap. Bozzetto’s strongest rival for the Parallel World Cup globe is his teammate and friend Nicolas Huet who earns 4,050 points but also Felix Stadler from Austria is pretty close with a total of 3,730. France’s Isabelle Blanc is leading the womens’ standings ahead of NOKIA team member Manuela Riegler from Austria and French rider Karine Ruby who is still looking for her first win this season after she had dominated the World Cup for quite a few years and won everything including the Giant Slalom gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

The second competition day at Makomanai will feature the season’s eighth Halfpipe event. Sweden and the US riders are dominating the mens’ standings so far with four Swedes being ranked among the top six. Thomas Johansson is in the lead after he has already claimed two wins. Fredrik Sterner takes second position so far ahead of US riders Zach Horwitz, also representing the NOKIA team, and Tommy Czeschin. Anna Hellman from Sweden owns the yellow World Cup leader bib in the womens’ ranking, chased by the NOKIA team members Sabine Wehr-Hasler and US rider Tricia Byrnes from the USA.

Aussi Zeke Steggall has had a bad start into the season due to bad asthma and a low immune system but he is recovering now. With his second win this season he only took the lead in the Snowboard Cross standings last week in Italy. Sweden’s Pontus Stahlkloo is currently in second ahead of NOKIA rider Guillaume Nantermod from Switzerland. The Fin Joni Vastamäki, fourth place in the standings so far, who is now getting better from a crash he had in a race three weeks ago, as well as French rider Sylvian Duclos and Alexander Koller from Austria also need to be taken into consideration for a win. The French women take the top two ranks with Marie Laissus leading ahead of reigning Snowboard Cross World Champion Julie Pomagalski. Other contenders for a win will be Carmen Ranigler from Italy, Germany’s Sandra Farmand and last year’s SBX World Cup champion Ursula Fingerlos, NOKIA team rider from Austria.

The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend is pretty good although the Makomanai organisers are working hard right now in getting the slopes prepared after heavy snow falls today which will probably continue also tomorrow.