A DNF-filled super-G run eliminated podium favorites Mikaela Shiffrin, Petra Vlhova, and Olympic champion Michelle Gisin along with 13 others before the slalom run ever got started in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria on Sunday. “Ausgeschieden” (roughly translating to “off- course”) was the stadium announcer’s word of the morning as even speed regulars Sofia Goggia, Viktoria Rebensberg, Ilka Stuhec, and Kira Weidle could not complete the course.
The weather was not an issue, as it had been a day earlier, and clear skies with sunshine greeted the racers for their unusually early first-run start time of 9:15 a.m. But no sun was shining on the track, which remained in the shadows and had become quite bumpy from the previous days’ downhill skiing on the slope.
The greatest challenge in Italian coach Giovanni Feltrin’s super-G set involved the skier’s entrance on Panorama-Kurve and exit through Lercheneck. But there was still a great opportunity to make up time through the lower turns in Schmalzleiten, as demonstrated by Ramona Siebenhofer, who separated herself from other early starters to make up more than one second in just a few clutch turns.
The day’s ultimate winner, Federica Brignone, of Italy, skied her coach’s course set on a mission, battling through the upper turns and rattling on the right footer through Panorama-Kurve. She maintained a clean enough line and carried speed through the Schmalzleiten to take the lead in the opening run of the day. Her teammate Marta Bassino barely made it through the critical section after getting sucked into a low line, but she muscled her way past Lercheneck and was rewarded for her fight with the second fastest super-G run at 0.22 seconds off Brignone’s pace.
“For sure it was tough. You had to inspect really well and know where you are always and predict and watch the others,” Brignone said of the super-G course. “But we are on the World Cup and we have to ski good if it’s tough, if it’s easy, if it’s icy, if it’s soft. You need to be prepared and ready for everything. There are some conditions where you are the best and some where you are not. But you just have to fight always.”
World champion and past discipline globe winner Wendy Holdener of Switzerland was most impressive in her speed run after getting off to a blazing fast start and carving through the upper sections. Despite getting bounced around on the lower turns and sliding a bit late, she was able to post the third-fastest run at only 0.50 seconds behind Brignone. This set up the ultimate chase where Holdener had a solid chance of overtaking both Italians in the technical portion of the race.
This first women’s alpine combined of the 2019-20 season marked the debut of the new start order in the discipline. Instead of running a reverse 30 for the second run as in past years, the best racer from the super-G leg had the first shot at the slalom course. Therefore, the early-morning leaders carried both a time and track advantage heading into the slalom.
Brignone was first up with a snappy, solid run void of any significant errors. Still, she crossed the finish line shaking her head from side to side doubting it would be enough to claim her third straight World Cup win in the event. During one of her first healthy summers in years, she was able to make gains while training slalom in Argentina to prioritize giant slalom, super-G, and combined this season.
“For starters, Wendy is a great slalom skier. And today it was the kind of slalom that if you don’t really go fast, you can take a lot and you can lose a lot. It was for slalom skiers because it was tight … and not steep, not icy, so it was an easy one. Normally, I’m not that good at those slaloms,” Brignone confessed. “In the flat, I was losing a little bit the rhythm and I said, ‘This is never going to be enough.’”
Late pressure on the opening turns cost Holdener an additional 0.24 seconds to Brignone before the Swiss star settled into her groove. She mounted a notable attack between the last intermediate and the finish, right where Brignone lost some steam, but Holdener still came up 0.15 seconds shy of the victory despite skiing the fastest slalom run.
“If you see how fast I was in super-G, then it’s a little bit of a defeat in slalom. But Federica did a really good slalom run, so it’s not a bad second place,” noted Holdener.
Bassino was able to hold onto the second alpine combined podium finish of her career in third with a more tentative run on the short skis, pushing her 0.82 seconds back, but she gave the Italian team much to celebrate along with Elena Curtoni who finished in fifth.
“We are really strong, and I think that’s nice because we all try to learn the best from each other,” Bassino said about the Italian team’s success so far this season. “We are competitors in the race, but on the team we are friends.”
The Austrians were yet again shut out at home with Siebenhofer grabbing the wooden spoon in a frustrating fourth place, rather reminiscent of her finish in Åre last winter at the World Ski Championships.
With no World Cup start list points in the discipline, Shiffrin started the super G outside the top two seeds with bib 21, knowing Vlhova had already lost a ski and failed to finish her run. The Overall leader had a smooth start and was making calculated turns when she caught an edge in Lerchwald and momentarily did the splits. With an athletic recovery, she was able to pull her skis back under her and continue, but then she slid out on her hip after leaning in on the tough right-footer in Lercheneck.
“I caught my skis in some softer snow and then I went into maybe the trickier turn on the course and I was just totally off balance, so I fell over,” Shiffrin said with a chuckle, not regretting her decision to skip the downhill. “I think it was much better for me to have those days for a little bit of training, but I think the only turn that it really would have helped me was the one that I fell on … but I wasn’t really in a good position on that turn, so I think that better skiing would have helped me more than doing the downhill.”
The only other U.S. Ski Team athlete competing in the race was Alice Merryweather who finished the super G in 18th position but fell back to 23rd following the slalom for her second-career World Cup result in the discipline. Canadian Roni Remme, the University of Utah senior who collected her career-first World Cup podium result in last winter’s Crans-Montana combined, finished in 12th place after moving up two spots with her slalom run.
The women’s tour now moves on to nearby Flachau, Austria, for the annual night slalom under the lights set for Tuesday, January 14.
- Federica Brignone (ITA): 2:03.45
- Wendy Holdener (SUI): +0.15
- Marta Bassino (ITA): +0.82
- Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT): +1.39
- Elena Curtoni (ITA): +2.50
- Ester Ledecka (CZE): +3.06
- Romane Miradoli (FRA): +3.20
- Nathalie Groebli (SUI): +3.25
- Ida Dannewitz (SWE): +3.26
- Elisabeth Reisinger (AUT): +3.35
For full race results, click here.