Cold, wet, and foggy was how the day started for the men’s World Cup slalom in Zagreb, Croatia, on Sunday. After the morning’s inspection saw limited visibility and increasing precipitation dampen spirits for the men of the World Cup slalom tour, the weather took an encouraging turn in the minutes before start time, providing a spectacular backdrop for Austria’s Marcel Hirscher to take his fifth Snow King Trophy and 30th World Cup slalom win.
One of the more interesting stops on tour, the Sljeme venue is perched high above the Croatian capital city and isolated enough where you cannot easily leave the venue once you are there until the race finishes. The ice that so challenged the women’s field on Saturday was still a factor in the men’s race, with more than a few racers — Hirscher included — finding themselves with more fight on their hands than they anticipated.
Hirscher battled through waning light, dropping temperatures, and a second run that saw several top contenders fail to finish to ultimately finish ahead of France’s Alexis Pinturault in second and Fellow Austrian, Manuel Feller, in third.
“Today, that definitely was not the easiest victory,” Hirscher said. “At the end of the day, I’m super, super happy but it was quite a hard working day.”
Hirscher found himself in second place after the first run, nearly four-tenths behind the pace set by his teammate and last week’s winner in Oslo, Marco Schwarz. Schwarz straddled early in his second run giving the victory to Hirscher.
“It was in general a hard day of work,” he continued. “To be and stay in the city here is really an amazing thing and there are always perfect conditions here.”
Pinturault sat in fifth place after the first run and took advantage of a second run set that was over four second slower than the first, causing many top racers to slide back in the rankings. The Frenchman’s last World Cup slalom podium came all the way back in 2014 when he won in Wengen, Switzerland, ahead of Hirscher, who finished third that day.
“I think I made two strong runs to come up on the podium and it was a long time ago the last time I was here so I’m really happy tonight,” he said. “I knew I was seven-tenths behind so I knew everything was possible [after my second run], but it’s always tight and you always hope that when you cross the finish that it’s enough. At least it was more than enough for me to come up to the podium. Hopefully my slalom is catching up now, it’s a podium but I know I still have some work to do and still have to correct some stuff but I hope to continue in this way and we will see what else is possible.”
Even though he is the 2017 World Championship silver medalist in slalom, Feller captured only his second career World Cup podium on Sunday despite being one of the fastest technical racers on tour for the past several seasons. A mixture of bad luck has seen the long-haired Austrian finish in fourth place six times in his career. Sitting in third after the first run and crossing the line in the second run behind Pinturault, Feller feared he would have to settle for another fourth-place finish before Schwarz skied out.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh not fourth again!'” Feller explained. “In this case, Marco did me a favor. I’m very sorry for him because I can feel back two years ago when I was leading here and straddled at the second gate. It was a difficult race with the first run being very fast and the second run being difficult because of the mixed light, you couldn’t see all the bumps. I’m very proud of myself that I skied that good and very happy with my first podium in slalom.”
Other notable performances on the day came from Croatian Istok Rodes, who finished in seventh place from bib 37, giving the home crowd something to cheer about. Italy’s Stefano Gross, who has struggled with back issues in recent years and has podium speed when healthy, went from 29th place after the first run to finish in 10th overall.
Mark Engel was the lone American starter in Zagreb on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Californian did not qualify for a second run.
The men’s tour now heads to Adelboden, Switzerland, to begin the swing of January “Classics” with slalom and giant slalom racing Jan. 12-13.
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
- Manuel Feller (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Clement Noel (FRA)- Dynastar/Lange/Look
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Sebastian Foss-Solevaag (NOR)- Voelkl/Dalbello/Marker
- Istok Rodes (CRO)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Felix Neureuther (GER)- Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Daniel Yule (SUI)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Stefano Gross (ITA)- Voelkl/Dalbello/Marker
For complete FIS results, please click here.