The men of the World Cup have not raced in Bansko, Bulgaria, since the 2012 season. Bulgaria may not be the first place to pop into your head when you think of world-class skiing, but the resort of Bansko, which is closer to the Greek Isles than the snow-covered Alps of Central Europe, nevertheless provided for some memorable action to kick off the final push of the World Cup season.
Friday began a three-day weekend of racing with the second and final alpine combined of the season. Austria’s Marco Schwarz, who was the winner in the only other combined this season in Wengen, Switzerland, was poised to make his mark and take his first career crystal globe. Schwarz finished 11th in the super-G portion but looked to be in pain in the finish and skipped the slalom run with a suspected knee injury. With Schwarz out of the picture, the door to the crystal globe was wide open.
Frenchman Alexis Pinturault has shown himself to be the most consistent combined skier in the world over the past several seasons. Pinturault is the reigning World Champion in the discipline and had won four combined globes in his career and stood atop the podium seven times in the combined discipline on the World Cup before Friday’s race.
An incredibly strong super-G run saw Pinturault sitting in third place heading into the slalom portion of the program. With podium-caliber speed in the traditional slalom already, Friday’s race was Pinturault’s to lose. The Frenchman never wavered, taking his eighth combined win and sealing his fifth crystal globe in the discipline, winning the race by 0.68 seconds over Austrian great, Marcel Hirscher. World Championship combined silver medalist, Slovenia’s Stefan Hadalin, finished in third, 0.69 seconds back.
“Yes, happy day,” Pinturault said after the race. “It went really well. I think it’s also coming a lot from my super-G run, which was really good. I made a huge difference compared to my competition and I had to ski just a little bit smart in the slalom. Usually for combined, when I’m on the start of the speed event, I’m always trying to do my best but it’s not always going that well because usually it’s in downhill and not in super-G. It’s not usual that I am in this situation after the speed discipline. It was also not that easy to be in this situation because then it’s a lot of pressure, everyone was expecting me and also expecting me for the globe. It was a lot of pressure but the main contender after the super-G was myself.”
Friday’s result marked the 17th alpine combined event since the discipline became standard on the World Cup with a Frenchman on the podium.
“It’s hard to say [what the difference is],” Pinturault explained. “I think we have some athletes which are really strong in several disciplines, like Victor [Muffat-Jeandet] for example, and also Thomas Mermillod-Blondin. For Thomas, in the beginning he was just racing in slalom and GS and then slowly went to speed so he kept his slalom and that makes him really strong for the combined.”
Hirscher was not originally planning on competing in the combined on Friday but after Pinturault and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen — Hirscher’s two closest rivals in the Overall standings — said they would race, Hirscher took to the start. The Austrian did not race the combined in Wengen or at World Championships and has not raced the discipline since the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, where he won gold.
“If Alexis and Henrik were not here then I would not be at the start as well because we are fighting for the overall,” he said. “If they make decisions to compete in the combined then I have to come as well. Maybe tomorrow I will start in the super-G, we have not decided yet, but as you can hear, I am not at one-hundred-percent and for me, personally, it is more important to perform really on the best I can give on Sunday [in the giant slalom] so we will see.”
It was a big day for Slovenia’s Hadalin as well as the 23-year-old captured his career-first World Cup podium, just over a week after his silver medal performance in the 2019 World Championship combined.
“For sure after the medal [at World Championships] it was a little easier for me,” Hadalin said. “I got a little bit more relaxed but every race is a story for itself so you need to reset, push again, and prove yourself again. I guess I did that today and I am really happy about it. I just said to myself, ‘You just ski and don’t think too much.’ I tried to relax at the start and make a good inspection because the course was a lot of rolls and it’s not so easy. I just relaxed, skied, enjoyed and had fun, pushed and made quite a solid result
Another impressive performance came from the likes of Canadian Trevor Philp, who set the fastest slalom run, jumping from 27th in the super-G to finish fifth overall. Friday’s result is the Calgary native’s career-best World Cup finish.
“Any day being in the top five is not a bad day,” Philp shared after the race. “I’m really excited with the day, to put down an okay super-G run after minimal time on the long skis, and then to push out of the slalom gate with one focus – attack,” said Philp. “The snow in both events was quite grippy and aggressive, so it did groove out a bit. I knew I had an opportunity with my slalom start number, and I did my best to take advantage of it.”
For the Americans, Ted Ligety led the way in 13th place, 2.44 seconds back, and was followed by Ryan Cochran-Siegle in 17th. Bryce Bennett finished 25th and Thomas Biesemeyer did not start his slalom run after finishing 45th in the super-G.
The men now race super-G in Bansko on Saturday, February 23.
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Stefan Hadalin (SLO)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Riccardo Tonetti (ITA)- Blizzard/Tecnica/Marker
- Trevor Philp (CAN)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Mauro Caviezel (SUI)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Rasmus Windingstad (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Filip Zubcic (CRO)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Linus Strasser (GER)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Lioc Meillard (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
For complete FIS results, please click here.