Wengen’s 90th anniversary of the Lauberhorn races kicked off on Friday, January 17th with the alpine combined and a downhiller victory. Austria’s Matthias Mayer held off France’s Alexis Pinturault by 0.07 seconds to take the win. France’s Victor Muffat-Jeandet rounded out the podium in third, 0.67 seconds off of Mayer.
Going into the 2019/20 season, FIS opted to change the alpine combined format in an attempt to make the event fairer for both slalom and speed specialists. In slalom run, which traditionally happens after a downhill or super-G, the start list would not flip. Meaning the top downhillers would run first, and most likely, the top slalom skiers would start farther back.
Due to the difficulty of the slalom hill in Wengen, predictions had been made by media and other experts that the race would cater to slalom specialists who finished well in the downhill. Friday’s alpine combined almost completely followed that trend. Pinturault led the way in the slalom, followed by Switzerland’s Loic Meillard and Muffat-Jeandet. Mayer was the exception. Having had the fastest downhill run of the day, and the fourth fastest slalom run of the day, he was able to hold Pinturault off by just enough to hang on to the win.
Mayer, who was the first man down the slalom course, sat in the hot seat watching the entirety of the field compete to best his time, and was pleasantly surprised when one by one each man came down over a second off of his time.
“It was really thrilling for me, especially when I saw Alexis Pinturault have a really good run,” exclaimed Mayer. “He was getting closer and closer at the intermediate and it was close at the end, but I’m happy. I know I had a good run in the slalom but I didn’t know I could ski as fast as today. It is a little surprising for me, but great.”
Given that the alpine combined format has been adjusted so the second run start list is not flipped, arguments have been made by both slalom and downhill athletes about which style this format caters to. Mayer is a downhiller. Wengen’s slalom track is one of the more difficult tracks on the tour. Guys like Bryce Bennett and Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who ski more speed than tech, came into the race anticipating that the win was going to go to whatever slalom guy could ski the fastest downhill run.
“It’s the full-on World Cup slalom hill, the exact same start, and finish,” Cochran-Siegle explained prior to the slalom run. “It’s definitely challenging. This is actually probably one of the hardest World Cup slaloms there is. I think maybe Kitzbuehel has a little bit sharper terrain. So we’ll definitely have our work cut out for us.”
Bennett, for one, has rarely trained any slalom coming into the season, or during the season. The American downhiller claims ot only have trained slalom three times prior to the combined, counting his slalom run in the Bormio combined competition.
“You know that slalom’s super flat and soft, and I’ve been training so much of it,” Bennett joked in the finish after the downhill. “The steepness and the hardness of the slalom course doesn’t really intimidate me, it’s more like, can I carve that much and the answer is probably no…but I’m going to try, and we’ll see.
Both Bennett and Cochran-Siegle scored points at the end of the day. Bennett had the best finish of the day for the Americans, 14th overall after finishing 15th in both the downhill and the slalom. Cochran-Siegle finished 19th. He had been 16th after the downhill and 19th after the slalom. Their teammate, Jared Goldberg, also scored points, finishing 24th overall. All three Americans are focused speed skiers, aside from Cochran-Siegle who has also been actively skiing in the giant slalom. For them, the alpine combined is another chance to ski the Lauberhorn downhill before the big day on Saturday.
“I kind of use the downhill more as some training and there’s a few things that I was playing around with that I saw on video and I think it’ll help for tomorrow,” said Bennett. “I’m already focused on tomorrow, not so much today. Tomorrow is a full commit day.”
On the other hand, guys like Pinturault and Muffat-Jeandet are using the combined day as another shot to ski the full slalom hill prior to Sunday.
“[Downhill] not my discipline, it’s definitely not where I’m the fastest,” said Pinurault. “I always have to push, trying my best. I think my downhill was pretty okay, but if seven-hundredths was maybe missing it was maybe in the downhill.”
Coming from a slalom background, Pinturault is of the perspective that the competition on Friday actually catered to the downhillers, and not the slalom specialists. To him, a proper slalom course runs on an icier track, one that really allows technical men to power into their turns and drive for speed. Friday’s snow conditions were what Pinturault considered soft and quite easy.
“I think it’s a big advantage to the downhillers. We can see that now there is a lot of guys that are coming close to the podium and claiming victories,” said Pinturault. “They really have to ski good on the downhill of course but then when the slalom is not icy like it was today, then they have a huge advantage. This kind of snow we never have on the slalom races, so that’s the reason why sometimes it can be really hard for us when we are starting with a high number to come back as close as possible to the downhillers.”
After finishing in second, Pinturault has overtaken Henrik Kristoffersen in the overall standings by two points. Pinturault also leads in the alpine combined standings, 68 points ahead of Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.
Up next in Wengen is the notorious Lauberhorn downhill, taking place on Saturday, January 18th.
- Matthias Mayer (AUT): 2:32.45
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA): +0.07
- Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA): +0.67
- Loic Meillard (SUI): +1.02
- Riccardo Tonetti (ITA): +1.24
- Martin Cater (SLO): +1.34
- Kjetil Jansrud (NOR): +1.52
- Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR): +1.56
- Niels Hintermann (SUI): +1.68
- Vincent Kreichmayer (AUT): +1.87
For full results, click here.