The first women’s alpine combined globe to be awarded since 2018 ended less in fanfare and more in a fizzle after heavy overnight snowfall on the Franco Berthod track forced the cancellation of the final race in the title chase that was scheduled in La Thuile, Italy on Sunday. The FIS announced in conjunction with the cancellation that the race would not be rescheduled this season.
Federica Brignone was the hands-down favorite after winning the last four races in the discipline and leading defending World Champion Wendy Holdener of Switzerland by 75 points. The Italian had a chance to claim her career-first crystal globe in front of a home crowd in Valle d’Aosta, but instead she will have to wait until the official awards presentation at World Cup Finals to celebrate.
“I will play the game for the World Cup in alpine combined, but my attitude needs to be the one of today,” Brignone said on Saturday after finishing in second place, just 0.01 seconds behind race winner Nina Ortlieb of Austria. “I will try to do my race in super-G and then try to go full-gas in slalom, and then we’ll see.”
This was the second of four alpine combined races on the calendar this season to be cancelled after Val d’Isere was lost at the end of December and also could not be replaced. Brignone led the combined standings in 2019 but no globe was awarded because only one race was ultimately contested last season. Still, she is the first woman to finish first in the alpine combined standings in successive seasons since Lindsey Vonn claimed three in row from 2010-2013. Holdener was the combined globe winner in 2018 and Ilka Stuhec of Slovenia took the title in 2017.
The situation in La Thuile was already a challenge for the course crew to manage when 25 centimeters (approximately 10 inches) of new snow fell on Wednesday followed by 30 centimeters (approximately 12 inches) on Thursday, and they worked hard to ensure Saturday’s super-G race. On Saturday afternoon, race officials announced that the super-G run in the combined would begin at the reserve start. But the overnight snowfall proved too much for organizers to prepare the hill, and the race was cancelled early Sunday morning.
“Well, it was a difficult situation again. We had more than 50 centimeters and the start and we had 30 to 40 in the finish. With these conditions and this amount of new snow, it was really impossible to get the course ready for a race,” remarked FIS Chief Race Director Peter Gerdol.
“We had four races in the calendar this year. Then, unfortunately, we finished only two. But with two we still can award the discipline globe. And Federica, I think, she deserves it anyway because she won both of the races we staged, and it’s a deserved globe.”
Last year during the World Championships in Åre, Sweden, the FIS Council green lighted the continuation of the discipline which has waned in popularity both with television audiences and organizing committees over the past several years. It was alpine skiing’s first Olympic event, debuting at the 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games, though both the men’s and women’s races were in the traditional combined format consisting of a full-length downhill run followed by two runs of slalom. Alpine combined is still celebrated at the Olympic Winter Games and World Championships, but its place on the already cramped World Cup calendar becomes problematic whenever the races are cancelled and replacement options are nonexistent.
Only half of the originally scheduled combined races on the women’s calendar were contested in 2019 and 2020. In 2018, two races were held after Lenzerheide stepped in as a replacement venue for St. Moritz. Holdener and her compatriot, Michelle Gisin, were in the hunt for the globe that season and finished first and second, respectively. Over the past four seasons, Crans-Montana and Lenzerheide – both in Switzerland – have hosted six of the seven alpine combined races that were held on the women’s tour.
The men’s tour successfully contested all three combined races on its calendar this winter concluding in Hinterstoder, Austria, on Sunday. Alpine combined remains on both the women’s and men’s long-term World Cup calendars through the 2022/23 seasons and will be featured at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, as well as the 2021 World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and 2023 World Championships in Meribel, France.
The women’s World Cup tour is now on an 11-day hiatus until the next race, a parallel slalom, is set in Åre. Brignone leads the overall standings with only seven races left on the schedule including four at World Cup Finals at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, which are currently under threat due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.
“I think no one wants to race without the public. In Ofterschwang, there was no snow but no one wants to recover this because I think they don’t want to have the danger of this virus. But I think it’s not so dangerous. I mean, I’ve been with the people all week and for sure I’m paying attention, but I think it’s not as serious as they say,” said Brignone. “I want to race, I’m a racer. But in one way I can recover and I can be prepared for Åre and the Finals. For me, doing one more week of training in GS can be a really good thing.”
Brignone is gunning to become the first Italian woman to win the World Cup Overall title in history. Karen Putzer came closest finishing as runner-up to Janica Kostelic in 2003, but no Italian woman has ever claimed the big crystal globe.