Alexis Pinturault has made a name for himself on the giant slalom circuit as one of the guys to watch in the race for the crystal globe. Yet, over the past five years, the Frenchman has struggled in slalom so much that at one point in his career he said he considered giving up the discipline altogether. Sunday’s race on home soil in Val d’Isere proved to him that the struggle to keep with it was worth it as he stood at the top of the slalom podium for the first time in five years. Pinturault has won in slalom only two other times in his career, once in Val d’Isere in 2012, and again in Wengen in 2014.
The weather in Val d’Isere made a complete turn in comparison to Saturday’s conditions. The slalom, originally scheduled for Saturday, had been postponed to Sunday due to extremely high winds, low visibility, and snow accumulation from previous days. The giant slalom that had been scheduled for Sunday was removed from the schedule altogether to accommodate for the slalom. Being pushed back a day turned out to be beneficial. Sunday’s race saw bluebird skies and hard, fast snow, a perfect stage to put on the slalom performance of Pinturault’s career.
On a notoriously steep pitch in combination with a turny course that many in the field struggled with, Pinturault made the whole thing look easy, winning the race by 1.44 seconds over the runner-up, Sweden’s Andre Myhrer. Pinturault pushed out of the starting gate in bib 1, the first performance of the day, and held onto the lead throughout the entirety of the first run.
“I was the first guy and I knew it was tricky to stay fast,” said Pinturault. “It’s something unbelievable, I worked so hard for so many years, I’ve had so many problems in this discipline, I nearly quit, then two years ago I decided to give it a go again. I’ve been on the podium a few times since but never a win. So to win again, especially in France is special.”
Switzerland’s Ramon Zenhaeusern looked to be the only guy that would come close to Pinturault’s initial time, 0.72 seconds back from the leader. That is, until bib number 40 came charging from the back, sliding into the top three, just 0.59 seconds behind the French crowd-favorite.
For Luke Winters, the speed is there. His first run in Levi, Finland, was on top-five pace for the majority of his run, until the last section of the course when he tripped up and fell just a few gates to the finish line. This time around in Val d’Isere the young American kept his cool during the first run, despite some amazingly athletic recoveries, and laid down a time that he admits didn’t feel great. When he crossed the finish line to see he had pushed into second place from bib 40, he was incredibly surprised.
Going into the second run, Winters was focused on trying to stay calm and not get too riled up. Val d’Isere is the 22-year-old’s eighth World Cup start and he had yet to score points on the World Cup, having never actually finished a race or successfully qualified for a second run. His plan was to carry his confidence from the first run into the second, knowing that he had just shown the world how fast he had been skiing in training, how fast he knew he could be. A big mistake at the top of the course should have forced Winters out, but the young American pulled out an incredible save and willed himself to fight through a couple more mistakes to cross the finish line.
“After I had those mistakes, all I wanted to do was get down the course,” said Winters. “But my first World Cup points, I’m glad to make it through the finish with two runs. It’s hard to be mad. There were some nerves, but that’s part of the game and I gotta learn to deal with them. One way of doing it is by putting myself in a place where there’s a lot of pressure. Down here through the flush, I barely made that too so I was just happy to make it to the finish line.”
Fellow teammate River Radamus also kicked out of the starting gate in Sunday’s slalom but did not finish his first run. Prior to Radamus’ start, Winters had been the sole representation for the Americans in Levi in an attempt to create more spots for his teammates to join him on the slalom circuit. After the 2018 season, the American’s struggles in the slalom discipline caused the team to lose a majority of the men’s slalom spots earned in the World Cup. In order for a nation to create more “nation team” spots, they must have athletes ranked within the top 45 on the World Cup Start List. For each athlete ranked inside of the top 45 an additional team spot is created and on Sunday, Winters completed the mission he had been tasked – create yet another nation spot for the United States. The U.S. Ski Team now has the capacity to start another man in the slalom in upcoming World Cup events. The next dedicated slalom race on the tour will be held in Zagreb, Croatia the first weekend of January.
The second most impressive jump of the day in the standings was made by none other than Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen. After a less than ideal first run, Kristoffersen had been sitting in 27th, barely in the mix of the top 30. For Kristoffersen who has become accustomed to earning a spot on the podium in the technical disciplines, a position towards the back end of the top 30 was less than ideal. But in typical fashion, Kristoffersen was able to channel his frustration into fuel and use it to ski the fastest second run of the day, over a second faster than the rest of the field. He then jumped from 27th into 4th overall, barely missing the podium by 0.01 hundredths behind Italy’s Stefano Gross. His teammate, Sebastian Foss-Solevagg also made a significant leap in the standings in the second run, having jumped 14 spots to finish ninth overall.
Italy’s Stefano Gross’ third-place finish added to the list of the day’s impressive finishes. The 33-year-old Italian has only had 20 days on snow this season thus far. After an injury sidelined him in early 2019, Gross was not able to return to snow until mid-September, just before the season started for the men skiing the technical disciplines on the World Cup. He has not had a podium in the slalom since the end of the 2016/17 season in Kranjska Gora.
“The slope is very tough here, and the course today was also tough,” said Gross. “After my injury last season it’s been very tough to ski, but I worked really hard this summer so I’m very happy for today’s result. In the last two-three weeks, I’ve felt better every day.”
A new date and location for the giant slalom race that had been postponed to accommodate for the men’s slalom in Val d’Isere has not yet been decided upon. For now the next on the men’s technical circuit will be in Alta Badia, where athletes will have a chance to compete in both a giant slalom and a night parallel giant slalom on the infamous Gran Risa.
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA): 1:47.91 – Head/Head/Head
- Andre Myhrer (SWE): +1.44 – Head/Head/Head
- Stefano Gross (ITA): +1.47 – Voelkl/Marker/Tecnica
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR): +1.48 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Michael Matt (SWE): +1.73 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Kristoffer Jakobsen (SWE): +1.75 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Loic Meillard (SUI): +1.85 – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA): +2.21 – Salomon/Salomon
- Sebastian Foss-Solevagg (NOR): +2.27 – Voelkl/Marker/Dalbello
- Daniel Yule (SUI): +2.35 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
For full race results, click here.