The show must go on, and the women’s World Cup proceeded as scheduled with super G racing in La Thuile, Italy on Saturday in front of a restricted crowd for the tour’s first venture in four years to Valle d’Aosta. The spectacular resort straddles Italy and France and affords tourists the rare opportunity to ski between both, but the day ultimately belonged to a new star from Austria.
Nina Ortlieb, the 23-year-old from Lech and daughter of downhill Olympic gold medalist and world champion Patrick Ortlieb, leveraged the confidence gained from rising onto the podium last weekend to reach the very top step this time around. With the lightest finesse on her edges, the Austrian ran her skis with precision to better her closest competition by mere hundredths of a second. She enjoyed the variety of the Franco Berthod slope in La Thuile which she found similar, at least in some ways, to Cran-Montana where she secured her very first podium result exactly seven days earlier.
“I always showed that I can ski fast. In the last years I had a lot of injuries that didn’t help me get to the top very fast. But now it’s turned out really well and I can ski with a lot of self-confidence. I have a lot of fun on the World Cup circuit now,” remarked Ortlieb. “At the start of the season, with the fourth place in Lake Louise, I think it also helped me to be mentally stronger and have a lot of self-confidence. Then you can ski with a flow and it makes it fun to race.”
It was also fun to watch the fastest and most focused skiers in the world tackle the tight and technical opening turns spitting down onto the narrow, gliding flat. Hometown hero Federica Brignone nailed the first handful of turns but lost her speed in the flat when she tried to push too hard in the soft snow that had accumulated in the days leading up to the race. She finished behind Ortlieb by the smallest possible margin, but she was nevertheless proud of her effort.
“I’m really happy and really satisfied with myself because I’m racing at home and it’s really difficult. I was so stressed. My legs were shaking all morning and last night I was unable to sleep. To be more focused on the race, I came here to sleep in the hotel with my teammates to make it more like a normal race, or all the other races,” said Brignone. “For sure it burns because I know where I lost the hundredth, but it’s such an honor to be on the podium in front of my home crowd.”
Super-G standings leader Corinne Suter of Switzerland was prepared for a strong performance, but that preparedness went out the window when she lost the grip of her left pole in the Curvone di Alpe Planey early on in her run. She spent the time she should have been tucking trying to regain her hand positioning and didn’t have full control of the pole again until the Magneuraz nearing the end of the course. Despite skiing the fastest bottom section, she had already surrendered far too much real estate to secure a victory.
“The podium is really good, my place and my time. But the run was everything [other] than good. I lost my pole after the first part, so it was not that good today,” admitted Suter who secured the downhill title last weekend at the home race in Switzerland. “Crans-Montana was for me one of the most difficult races because I was so, so nervous for the people in the finish and also pressure for the globe. So today was much more relaxed at the start.”
The pressure will be back on in the last super-G of the season, scheduled for Finals, where the discipline title will be decided between Suter and Brignone who are separated by only 19 points. Unfortunately, the U.S. Ski Team qualified only Mikaela Shiffrin to the super-G at Finals and she has not announced if she will compete again this winter in the wake of her father’s death. Alice Merryweather was on the bubble heading into Saturday’s race, but she failed to finish in the top 30 and missed the cut by a single point. Alice McKennis and Breezy Johnson, meanwhile, finished 27th and 30th as they continue to rebuild confidence in the discipline.
Brignone continues to lead the overall standings, now by 152 points over Shiffrin and 189 points to Petra Vlhova who impressively finished fourth and showed little sign of the knee injury she is apparently struggling with. Just how many races remain in the women’s World Cup season is in doubt as next week’s technical events in Ofterschwang, Germany, were cancelled due to a lack of snow and no replacement venue could be found in time to host. FIS officials are expected to make a decision on the fate of the World Cup Finals, currently scheduled in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, from March 18-22, on Monday, March 2nd when they will likely announce if the event is to go on as planned, be replaced in an alternate venue, or be outright cancelled due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
The women will race the final alpine combined of the 2019/20 season on Sunday in La Thuile with the super-G beginning at the reserve start. Brignone leads combined standings by 75 points over Wendy Holdener as the Italian looks to secure her career-first globe in the discipline in front of her home crowd. Although she led the combined standings in 2019, no globe was awarded because only a single race was contested in the discipline last winter.
Top-10, Women’s super G, La Thuile, Italy
- Nina Ortlieb (AUT): 1:11.72
- Federica Brignone (ITA): +0.01
- Corinne Suter (SUI): +0.07
- Petra Vlhova (SVK): +0.39
- Marta Bassino (ITA): +0.51
- Ester Ledecka (CZE): +0.55
- Elena Curtoni (ITA): +0.78
- Joana Haehlen (SUI): +0.82
- Wendy Holdener (SUI): +0.95
- Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI): +0.98