What a day for Slovenia. Just hours after Ilka Stuhec swept the women’s speed series in Val Gardena, Italy, the Slovenian men’s team delivered a win of their own on Wednesday in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria. Zan Kranjec found himself sitting in fourth place after a first run of GS that caught its fair share of top-seeded World Cup racers off guard and battled his way through an equally challenging second run to emerge victorious on the World Cup for the first time in his career.
The World Cup was last in Saalbach-Hinterglemm in 2015 when the men’s speed tour was in town for downhill and super-G races. The last time a GS was contested at the venue was 1999 when the Austrian men swept the podium when Christian Mayer, Hermann Maier, and Benjamin Raich went one-two-three in front of the home crowd. Wednesday’s race was put on the calendar after the traditional World Cup opening GS in Soelden, Austria, was cancelled due to weather back in October.
Tricky fall-away sections, two slow-speed, turny sets, and run times that were over 1:20.00 seconds each proved a formidable challenge for the field as 26 of the 71 athletes failed to finish either the first or second run. First run leader, Sweden’s Matts Olsson, fell victim to the second run and handed Kranjec the win. Kranjec was joined on the podium by Switzerland’s rising talent, Loic Meillard, who earned his first World Cup podium appearance in second place, 0.19 seconds back. France’s Mathieu Faivre rounded out the podium in third place, his first podium since March of 2017, a half-second off of Kranjec.
Kranjec’s win was the first ever men’s GS victory for Slovenia since its independence in 1991.
Austrian living legend, Marcel Hirscher, could only conjure up a sixth-place finish, his first time finding himself off of a slalom or GS podium since he finished in 17th in his first race back from injury in Levi, Finland, in November 2017. It was a disappointing day overall for the home team as Hirscher and Johannes Strolz were the only two Austrian finishers inside of the top 30 with Strolz ending up in 17th place.
“It was really bad for me,” Hirscher told Austrian television. “In two days from hero to zero.”
“This summer, I skied very good, but in the first races I can’t produce what I do in training,” Kranjec said after the race. “Today’s second run was really on the limit. I skied good, also some mistakes but the key was for sure full attack and good skiing.”
It has been an intense week of racing for the men’s tour with speed racing in Val Gardena, GS and parallel in Alta Badia, and now racing in Saalbach happening virtually back-to-back-to-back. Kranjec credits his capacity to recover as a factor in his ability to keep the intensity up on the lower sections of the course when the legs are burning.
“For sure, recovery was important, especially for today, it was a very long course but for me, for sure the key was my head and body,” he explained. “If not, I wouldn’t be prepared to ski the last steep and couldn’t ski like I skied today. In the last few years, a lot of younger guys have come on the top or close to the top and for sure it was just about time when some new faces be on the podium.”
Meillard’s first World Cup podium comes after showing podium speed for the past few years on Tour and could be an indication of what is on the horizon for the 22-year-old talent. The Swiss men’s technical team as a whole has really come into their own in recent years with Meillard and his teammates threatening for podium positions race after race.
“It’s very special, for sure,” Meillard said. “My first podium and with my sister’s injury, I have this result for her. I think also for the whole team it is very important to be there and show that we are strong and working in the right direction. I think we have a very good dynamic in the whole team. We are enjoying what we are doing and are really pushing each other. For sure that’s helping us to go in the front and try to improve every day and still enjoy it.”
Faivre echoed the sentiments of many racers as the challenging conditions didn’t leave too many athletes feeling very good about their skiing. The Frenchman looked utterly shocked when he crossed the finish line with a lead after his second run. Faivre has struggled to find the same form that landed him in second overall in the World Cup GS standings just two years ago since the men’s Tour switched to a 30-meter radius GS ski at the beginning of last season.
“It feels really special after the last season,” Faivre said. “It was really tough on me, last season, so I’m really happy to do this podium. It’s my first podium with the short skis, the 30-meter skis, so I’m really happy about my day and about how I skied today. I did a big mistake on the very top but I heard a lot of athletes did the same mistake. I thought I had no speed anymore and had to push as much as I can until the end. When I crossed the finish line, I really didn’t expect to be first. I thought I would be eighth or ninth or something like that so when I saw the board I was really surprised.”
The Americans were led by Tommy Ford and Ted Ligety, who finished back-to-back in 14th and 15th place, respectively. Hig Roberts and Brian McLaughlin did not qualify for a second run and River Radamus and Ryan Cochran-Siegle did not finish their first runs.
The men’s tour now races the make-up slalom from Val d’Isere, France, in Saalbach on Thursday, Dec. 20.
- Zan Kranjec (SLO)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Loic Meillard (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Mathieu Faivre (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
- Stefan Luitz (GER)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Thomas Fanara (FRA)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Luca de Aliprandini (ITA)- Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
For complete FIS results, please click here.