Four days ago in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Italy’s Federica Brignone felt the sting of missing out on a World Cup win by only one-hundredth of a second when she finished runner-up to her teammate, Sofia Goggia, in the super-G. Brignone exacted her revenge on the women’s field on Tuesday in Courchevel, France, eking out her first win of the season by four-hundredths in a hotly-contested giant slalom.
Warm temperatures uncharacteristic for this time of year in the alps made for spring-like racing with salted snow and wet conditions in the afternoon both factoring into how the results shook out. With big names faltering and a first-time duo climbing the podium, it was definitely a day of new experiences in Courchevel.
Brignone sat in third after an opening run that saw newcomer Mina Fuerst-Holtmann of Norway set the time to beat. Pre-race favorite, the United States’ Mikaela Shiffrin, sat in a puzzling 19th after the opening run, a surprise given that she made no major mistakes and had won the last two GS races contested in Courchevel. Another top challenger, France’s own Tessa Worley, sat ninth, no doubt also looking for a spark in the second run.
GS for both men and women is shaping up to be one of the most exciting disciplines to watch this season given the sheer number of athletes with podium potential stepping into the starting gate each race. Tuesday in Courchevel was no different.
Second run saw lead change after lead change as newcomers and veterans alike traded blows in the afternoon sunshine. Shiffrin could not mount a second run comeback, however, and ultimately ended up finishing in 17th place. Worley, the other pre-race favorite, also struggled and ended up in 11th at the end of the day.
Brignone took to her second run and left nothing to chance, risking it all and rarely sacrificing a clean outside ski as she built up a comfortable lead at each interval before crossing the finish with the green light ahead of Swiss star Wendy Holdener. With another Italian, Killington winner Marta Bassino, falling back after her second run, only Fuerst-Holtmann was left at the start.
The 24-year-old Norwegian matched Brignone turn for turn on the upper sections of the course before running late in a key section before the final gates, ultimately costing her the win but earning her first World Cup podium in the process.
“I knew I could not even spare one turn in the second run,” Brignone said after the race. “I tried to come from the back because it was a little bit more bumpy in the second run. I tried to arc every single turn.”
Brignone’s winning margin of just 0.04 seconds makes the second podium in the last handful of days for the Italian that was decided by the blink of an eye. This time, however, she was on the winning side of it.
“It’s pretty nice to win!” she admitted. “As I said in St. Moritz, if someone is faster than you, they are faster than you, one hundredth or 20 hundredths. When you’re skiing good, they come and they go, the hundredths. The key is just to try, always. To make the difference today, we had to really push.”
Fuerst-Holtmann’s previous best World Cup finish was a fourth place at the season opener in Soelden, Austria, and the Norwegian had never held a lead after the first run at the World Cup level before. Although dealing with some newfound pressure in the second run, she was happy with how she handled the situation and is looking to continue this momentum into the holidays.
“I’m feeling really good,” she said. “I’m super happy and it’s really nice to bring this result to the Christmas break! I was nervous, and that’s a good thing. I’m happy that I was nervous and the nerves didn’t take over, they just kept me focused. I was happy with my first run and I knew I could do it another run so I just trusted that and it worked out.”
Perhaps the most emotional performance of the day came from Holdener, who landed on her first World Cup GS podium. A week-in-week-out threat in slalom, GS has been a bit of an enigma for the 26-year-old Swiss. Holdener managed to jump from fifth after the first run to her podium placing, leapfrogging some big players in GS in the process.
“It’s like a dream come true,” an elated Holdener said in the finish. “It’s my first podium in giant slalom. I’ve had a hard way in giant slalom so I’m so happy that I could show my best skiing today. I was happy to have the green light and be fast. When Petra (Vlhova) went behind me, then it was really nerve-wracking because I knew if some of the girls come behind me, then I have my first podium. It was an amazing moment, I really screamed out my soul.”
In contrast to the joy of the podium, Shiffrin’s performance on Tuesday had many, including Shiffrin herself, searching for answers. Shiffrin had been utterly dominant at Courchevel over the past several seasons, taking the last four races — including two GSs — at the venue. Tuesday’s 17th-place finish was Shiffrin’s worst World Cup finish since placing 20th in the 2017 St. Moritz super-G and her worst finish in a technical discipline since March of 2014.
“It’s not really ok for me to expect something more from the day,” she said after her second run. “I skied how I skied and I placed how I placed. The girls who are ahead of me, the girls in the podium positions, they skied harder, they skied better, cleaner, pretty much all of these things, they did a better job.”
Whether it was equipment, technique, tactics, some combination of all three, or something else entirely, it’s safe to say that Shiffrin simply had an off day on Tuesday.
“Both courses were really fun, awesome to ski, and my equipment has been really great in training and everything,” she added. “There’s really nobody to blame but myself here. I’m for sure going to watch my video a lot more, there’s always a lesson to learn. Right now, it just feels a lot like what I’m trying to do I’m not actually able to do. It’s also not the end of the world, so, next one.”
One thing is for sure, though: If there’s one athlete that can bounce back from disappointment and come out of it stronger than ever, it’s Shiffrin.
The only other American starter, Nina O’Brien, did not qualify for the second run.
The women’s Tour now heads to Val d’Isere, France for downhill and combined racing December 19-22.
- 1. Federica Brignone (ITA) – 2:12.59 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- 2. Mina Fuerst-Holtmann (NOR) – +0.04 Voelkl/Dalbello/Marker
- 3. Wendy Holdener (SUI) – +0.44 Head/Head/Head
- 4. Petra Vlhova (SVK) – +0.48 Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- 4. Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) – +0.48 Stoekli/Lange
- 6. Sara Hector (SWE) – +0.59 Head/Head/Head
- 7. Marta Bassino (ITA) – +0.77 Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- 8. Maria Therese Tviberg (NOR) – +0.86 Head/Head/Head
- 9. Marlene Schmotz (GER) – +0.89 Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- 10. Alice Robinson (NZL) – +0.98 Voelkl/Dalbello/Marker
For complete results, click here.