If you could dream up a perfect day to have a ski race, Friday in Cortina, Italy, would have been it. With overnight snowfall leaving a dusting on the Dolomites, the women of the World Cup speed circuit charged down the Olympia delle Tofane track under blue skies and stunning surroundings.
Unfortunately, due to the overnight accumulation, the call was made by the race jury to move the start down to the Tofana section, which dramatically shoots racers between two rock spires on the upper section of the course. The upper few turns of the downhill in Cortina are quite technical due to the slower speeds and extreme sidehill before launching into the Tofana. Racers said on Friday that without the upper turns, aggression is a must if they hope to separate themselves from the rest of the field.
“It was actually better for me because the upper jump actually hurt my knee pretty solidly yesterday so I’m happy that we didn’t start up there,” said American Lindsey Vonn, who made her return to the World Cup on Friday. “At the same time, I think I ski really well up top so hopefully tomorrow we’ll be from the top.”
Action was fast and exciting for the duration of the race with several racers throughout the top-30 starters threatening the podium with fast splits, sometimes only losing time in the final turns before the finish. Austria’s Ramona Siebenhofer managed to find the magic combination of technique, tactics, and raw aggression at the end of the day to take her maiden World Cup victory, finishing ahead of Slovenian star Ilka Stuhec and her Austrian teammate, Stephanie Venier. Wearing bib 17, she was one of the last serious contenders to take to the course and wowed the crowd with an amazing final split that saw her pull ahead of the rest of the field.
Siebenhofer’s previous best World Cup finish was a third place from last month in Val Gardena, Italy, in the downhill. Siebenhofer also finished third in downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, in 2015.
“I was really, really happy because I had a high bib with 17 and so many girls are at the top of their games and can maybe be faster,” Siebenhofer shared. “I was really, really nervous afterwards to wait until the last racer, there were a lot of emotions. I like Cortina very, very much, especially the mountains around are really, really great. I hope we have a good World Championships here in 2021.”
Stuhec, who missed all of the 2017-18 season with an ACL injury, continues to return to the form that saw her win the 2017 World Championship downhill as well as the downhill crystal globe that season. The Slovenian looked to have another victory nearly packed away until Siebenhofer took to the course.
“I felt strong but my run was not perfect,” Stuhec said. “It was a shorter course which means you really have to be perfect top to bottom. Obviously, Ramona did that better today but I’m still satisfied with what I showed and I’m really happy for her. I’m getting more and more confident which is what’s kind of been missing so that’s definitely nice. I still know where I have to work better so I hope I’ll manage to do that tomorrow.”
Venier finished runner-up behind Stuhec in the 2017 World Championship downhill but until Friday had yet to crack the top three in a World Cup downhill. The 25-year-old Austrian has two other World Cup podiums to her name, both of them in super-G from 2017.
“I am happy but I had many mistakes, I think three, but it was a good race for me,” she said after the race. “For me, today, it was good that the start was a little bit lower because the upper part is not so much my strength so yes, I am very happy. I will do the same tomorrow as today without the mistakes so we will see.”
The American contingent was led by a hard-charging Laurenne Ross who managed to jump from bib 23 to finish a solid ninth and her first top 10 0f the season. Although the spotlight was on her teammate Vonn, Ross was able to bounce back from some challenging early-season results in order to lead the team on Friday.
“It felt really good and the conditions were pretty good considering how much it snowed last night,” she shared. “It was the first race of my whole season where I haven’t come down in last so that was kind of nice. I think I’m kind of getting it together a little bit more.”
“You pick up to speed right away, there aren’t really any adjustments anywhere,” she added of the shortened course. “Off of the first jump you can tighten up the line a tiny bit but otherwise it’s pretty much exactly the same. Speeds are the same, bumps are in the same place, you just really have to charge on this course.”
Much of the hype surrounding the weekend’s races in Cortina is centered around the return of Lindsey Vonn, who is just four wins shy of tying the all-time World Cup wins record of 86, set by Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark. Vonn was injured in training in Colorado last November and elected to sit out the first races of the season. Now wearing knee braces on both knees, Vonn skied solidly apart from a mid-course mistake that saw her slide back to finish in 15th. Buoyed by the confidence that her spit times between the mistake were fast enough to challenge for the podium, Vonn is looking ahead to another chance in the second downhill on Saturday.
“It was really fun to just feel the adrenaline again and to be in the starting gate,” Vonn said. “I’m really happy with the way I attacked today. Obviously, it wasn’t the result I was hoping for but I just made one really big mistake and unfortunately that cost me a lot of time but I was a lot more aggressive than I had been in the first training run and this is only my second run of downhill since November. I gotta be happy with what I have but I’m also really happy for Laurenne, she skied awesome. Tomorrow is another opportunity. I’m going to clean up my mistakes and I know what to do, I just have to execute.”
World Cup newcomer, Alice Merryweather, finished in an encouraging 22nd place from bib 40. the 22-year-old Massachusetts native and 2017 World Junior Champion in downhill has yet to finish outside of the points in a World Cup downhill this season.
The women will race a second downhill in Cortina on Saturday, January 19.
1. Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
2. Ilka Stuhec (SLO)- Stoeckli/Lange
3. Stephaine Venier (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
4. Corinne Suter (SUI)- Head/Head/Head
5. Romane Miradoli (FRA)- Dynastar/Lange/Look
6. Francesca Marsaglia (ITA)- Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
7. Tamara Tipler (AUT)- Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
8. Kira Weidle (GER)- Rossignol/Lange/Look
9. Laurenne Ross (USA)- Stoeckli/Lange
9. Cornelia Huetter (AUT)- Head/Head/Head
For complete FIS results, please click here.