The gliders looked downright uncomfortable in Sunday’s concluding race in Bansko, Bulgaria, where strong technical skiing once again shined on the dark and bumpy track – this time, with a few more turns. With no flats to provide relief, the unrelenting hill required course setter Roland Assinger of Austria to stack his final five gates in as a veritable corridor to make the minimum required count on the slope.
Mikaela Shiffrin was nothing shy of surgical in her opening turns, running a tight line close to each gate. Although she leaned in slightly and got caught a bit back through the delay at Traverse, she quickly recovered to her more characteristically attacking position. One last bounce in Vihren Road demanded her full fight to maintain the quickest direction off the final jump, but she screamed across the finish line 0.29 seconds ahead of runner-up Marta Bassino.
Shiffrin referred to her experience in Bansko as the perfect weekend, capped off by her 66th career World Cup victory.
“I felt really good on my skis. I felt like I could do what I wanted to do. But I had to be really aggressive. It wasn’t always perfectly clean, but I think it was the fastest way that I could ski this hill and this course. So I’m super excited, and I think the whole team is very excited about the whole weekend but especially today,” remarked Shiffrin. “These kind of races over this weekend, it’s really challenging – they are very difficult – and I think that makes the victories or these good races so much sweeter.”
Bassino of Italy also had one of the best weekends of her career, not something she necessarily expected during the speed block, and confessed that she had fallen in love with the Marc Girardelli slope in Bansko.
“Actually, when I crossed the finish line I [didn’t] think it was enough for the podium because I made some mistakes. But then other athletes made some mistakes, and so I made it again,” explained Bassino. “It was my first podium yesterday in downhill and my first podium today in super-G, so I’m super, super happy.”
Bassino’s slip-up proved less costly than many others. She lost her edge through Tomba and had to roll the ski flat before re-engaging, essentially making a double turn on a course that demanded precision. But her persistence paid off, and she was rewarded with a career-first super-G podium finish.
The race increased in intensity when Bassino’s teammate Federica Brignone threatened Shiffrin’s time at the third intermediate. With a 0.08-second lead and the finish line in sight, Brignone hooked her right arm on a gate in Vihren Road and slid off course. Despite the frightening contact, was able to ski down to the finish area.
Technical specialist Petra Vlhova, starting with bib 31, gave the audience good reason to stay focused on the race beyond the top seeds. Reminiscent of when Shiffrin first branched out into speed events, the podium was uncertain until Vlhova had her shot. The Slovakian was lined up for a second-place finish all the way through the third intermediate before two major mistakes on Vihren Road spit her into a still commendable sixth place.
“Every single race there are so many women who are skiing really fast, really strong, so every race is such a big fight,” noted Shiffrin. “And I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time. So certainly I’ve been feeling sometimes like the expectations that I have or that other people might have I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”
What she is most proud of right now is that she has won in slalom, giant slalom, super-G, and downhill so far this season, which she didn’t expect this winter. She also assumed the lead in the super-G standings with 186 points, overtaking Viktoria Rebensburg who dropped back to third with 148 and topping Corinne Suter who has 150. The U.S. speed squad could also add Alice Merryweather’s 19th-place finish, her seventh scoring result of 2019-20, to the highlight reel.
After skiing out in Friday’s downhill and finishing 10th in Saturday’s, Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland found the podium on the final day of the weekend for her first top-three appearance in almost a year. Her super-G form was evident during her fifth-place run in St. Moritz in December, but Bansko provided the appropriate stage for her return to the front runners of the discipline.
“I have been a long time away from the podium. It’s been a year, and it’s not always so easy. You just try to be confident and ski and work every day to go back where you want to be,” said Gut-Behrami. “I just hope that I can take the feeling I had today and the last races just to put the pieces together because I’m still struggling a little bit for the balance to find the confidence on the skis. I ski a few turns really fast, and then I just make mistakes. But it’s the way I have to go through.”
She plans to keep her eyes focused for next weekend’s races in Rosa Khutor, Russia, and the following weekend in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, site of her previous podium finish. Bassino will skip the trip to Russia to train at home but will return to the speed tour in Garmisch. Shiffrin was still undecided after the race about whether or not she would travel to Rosa Khutor.
“I don’t know. Because I had a really good weekend here, now I’m like, oh, speed is fun! Yeah, I have to make the decision. We’ll see,” Shiffrin said with a chuckle. “After this weekend, my brain is a little bit dead.”
The women’s tour will next travel to Rosa Khutor for downhill and super-G at the same venue where snowfall wiped out the entire week’s program last season.
Top 10, Women’s Super G, Bansko, Jan. 26
- Mikaela Shiffrin (USA): 1:10.88
- Marta Bassino (ITA): +0.29
- Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI): +0.70
- Corinne Suter (SUI): +0.92
- Tina Weirather (LIE): +1.00
- Petra Vlhova (SVK): +1.13
- Elena Curtoni (ITA): +1.23
- Stephanie Venier (AUT): +1.25
- Nina Ortlieb (AUT): +1.27
- Anna Veith (AUT): +1.35