When it comes to alpine combined, Federica Brignone of Italy is currently unstoppable. She won her fourth straight race in the demanding discipline on Sunday afternoon and also her fourth ever at Crans-Montana, setting a new record for women’s World Cup combined victories at a single resort. She was followed on the podium, albeit it not too closely, by Austrian rising talent Franziska Gritsch and dual sport Olympic champion Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic in second and third places, respectively.

The Italian ace opened the day with a dominating super G performance that showed she was hungry to return to the podium for the first time since Feb. 8. She launched herself off the second jump with such speed that a backseat, tail-slapping landing was inevitable, but she pulled it off with impressive ease. Though she attacked the entire way down Mont Lachaux, Brignone really separated herself from the field by skiing the ideal, high line on the final pitch.

Image shows Federica Brignone (ITA) in the super G portion of the Sunday’s alpine combined. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

Petra Vlhova took big risks in her run and had to make what appeared to be a significant correction after approaching the second jump too directly, but the move only cost her 0.05 seconds at the second intermediate. She stayed within touch of Brignone until the last steep and ultimately crossed the line 0.58 seconds adrift.

Image shows Petra Vlhova (SVK) in the super G portion of Sunday’s alpine combined. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

Nina Ortlieb, the only athlete to make a podium appearance in either of the two days of downhill racing and also compete in the combined, pushed into third place with a 0.66-second deficit. The pure speed skier was not expected to factor in during the slalom run, so Ledecka in fourth and Gritsch in fifth had fighting chances to move up the list.

Brignone’s slalom run was a clear best effort with no major mistakes. Her rounder line through a delay and some harder edge sets where the course was more turny opened the door a jar for Vlhova, but the run was solid enough to ensure a podium result. The Slovakian was second on the course in warming conditions and knocked Brignone’s lead all the way down to just 0.06 seconds at the second split when she uncharacteristically straddled a hairpin and put an abrupt end to a riveting contest.

Federica Brignone (ITA) skis the slalom portion of the alpine combined for the win. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

“I don’t know what the magic [is] here in Crans-Montana for me, but it’s really amazing. The crowd is amazing. I don’t know. I feel a little bit lucky today, but it was a good fight. For sure, I made my race with the super G,” reflected Brignone. “There is a kind of magic here. I’m always really comfortable with the snow and with this slope. Today, I wasn’t even stressed at the slalom. I just tried to do my best and really attack from the start to the finish.”

According to Vlhova’s coach Livio Magoni, the Slovakian was suffering from severe knee pain following Saturday’s downhill. He told the Italian media prior to the combined that she went to the hospital for an examination on Saturday which revealed a problematic area of cartilage in the knee. Although the medical team recommended upwards of 20 days of rest, Vlhova used pain relieving medication to start in Sunday’s race. The pain may have played a role in the unusual mistake for the technical phenom who has won the last three slalom races on the circuit.

Similar to the debut of the new second run start order in alpine combined that took place in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee earlier this year, the podium was fixed by the fifth starter and the excitement of the race fell off a figurative cliff after the 10th starter. Wendy Holdener, in that spot and 1.50 seconds behind in the super-G, could not mount a wholly miraculous slalom run and finished in fifth.

Ledecka, who continues to balance a competition season across alpine skiing and snowboard World Cups, was surprised by her athletic performance in the slalom that netted her a career-first podium finish in combined. She was fourth in the speed leg but also posted the fifth fastest slalom run of the day.

Image shows Ester Ledecka (CZE). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mathias Mandl

“I think it’s quite a giant surprise, especially for my coaches because they know how I usually prefer in training. I think it was a good thing because we were training only on flat parts and here is quite steep. But maybe it was good that I didn’t learn to brake,” joked Ledecka who admitted she had only trained on slalom skis five days during the winter. “I think it was pure magic today, to be honest. It was an awesome run. I really enjoyed both runs. It was good that I had a really good super-G run so I had a good starting position for the second run. Yes, I was trying to give it my all.”

The Austrian Gritsch was closest to Brignone at 0.92 seconds back to secure her second podium in her first full year on the tour. Last season, she straddled events on the World Cup with European Cup competition while she worked to make the leap into the top 30 in the world.

“It’s pretty awesome because I had more focus on the technical disciplines this season. Just now I did step-by-step some super-G training. I was pretty excepted to ski the alpine combined today and that I felt so good in the super-G was amazing. I think it was also good to be in fifth position because I had a good slope also in the slalom and could ski my own line,” said Gritsch.

Similar to the debut of the new second run start order in alpine combined that took place in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee earlier this year, the podium was fixed by the fifth starter and the excitement of the race fell off a figurative cliff after the 10th starter. Wendy Holdener, in that spot and 1.50 seconds behind in the super-G, could not mount a wholly miraculous slalom run and finished in fifth.

Brignone holds a 75-point lead in the discipline standings over Wendy Holdener with only one race still to come next week in La Thuile to determine the small globe. With her win in Crans-Montana, Brignone also assumed the lead in the overall standings by 73 points over Mikaela Shiffrin who has not competed since the sudden and unexpected passing of her father at the start of the month. 

Image shows Roni Remme (CAN). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

Current University of Utah student Roni Remme of Canada, who secured her maiden World Cup podium in the 2019 edition of this race, finished seventh as the top North American. The U.S. Ski Team’s Alice Merryweather also posted a notable result in eighth, but it was her sixth-place super-G run in the morning that proved most inspiring. Merryweather hopes to qualify for World Cup Finals as one of the top 25 super-G skiers in the standings, and she currently sits in 24th position with one race remaining in the qualification period.

Image shows Alice Merryweather (USA). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

“It’s definitely a confidence boost going into La Thuile. I’m definitely not taking anything for granted. I’m not comfortable in 24th by any means. So I just have to kind of put Finals out of my mind and think about it as just another race, just another day of super-G. But it definitely helps to have a good super-g under my belt from this morning,” said Merryweather.

The women’s World Cup moves on to Brignone’s home valley of La Thuile, Italy, next weekend for super-G and the final alpine combined race of the season.  

Top 10, women’s alpine combined, Crans Montana, Sunday, Feb. 23

  1. Federica Brignone (ITA): 1:15.62
  2. Franziska Gritsch (AUT): +0.92
  3. Ester Ledecka (CZE): +1.82
  4. Michelle Gisin (SUI): +1.93
  5. Wendy Holdener (SUI): +2.49
  6. Marusa Ferk (SLO): +2.50
  7. Roni Remme (CAN): +2.77
  8. Alice Merryweather (USA): +3.24
  9. Rahel Kopp (SUI): +4.02
  10. Laura Pirovano (ITA): +4.28