Kathrin Zettel won her first Slalom since January 2010 in Maribor as she deprived her compatriot Marlies Schild of a record breaking win. Zettle lead after the first run and despite Schild having put in a fantastic second run to take the game to Zettel, Zettel proved that she is a match for her. With Tina Maze adding another podium to her collection for the season, the Slovenian is racking up the points across the board. After a modest first run, Maria Hoefl-Riesch put in a great second run and it very nearly paid off for her as she rose from fifth after the first run to take fourth after the second run, being edged out by Maze by twelve hundredths of a second from the podium.
Aspen has not been blessed with snow so far this season and the organisers had to rely on the artificial snow to get the race to run at all. Artificial snow does not bind as well as natural snow and so it was not a surprise to see the course break up fairly quickly on each run. When the course started to break up, this made it harder for the later runners to crack the top thirty. Just five racers from outside the elite group of the top 30 starters made the flip and all bar one of them were in the top 35 starters. Brittany Phelan from Canada, starting 44, made the flip.
The second run was set by the ex British Team coach, the man credited for taking Alain Baxter on his memorable 2001 season, Christian Schwaiger. Schwaiger likes to make the racer work and the course that he set had the girls working their skis from gate to gate. Yet after about twelve racers you could see the course starting to deteriorate. The course came down the top section, then down a steep and into the finish section. It was the middle part of the course that the racers would win or lose time and simple mistakes would prove costly.
As with the Giant Slalom the previous day, the leaders had good time gaps on the rest of the field. Zettel lead from Maze with Schild in third after the first run. Lurking after a fairly uneventful first run in 20th spot (and thus going tenth) was Veronika Velez Zuzulova from Slovakia. Zuzulova put in a crushing run that showed just what a talent she is and posted a time that was comfortably in the lead. And there she stayed until the only American in the field for the second run, Mikaela Shiffrin took the lead. Could she hold and give the Americans their first win on home snow in twenty years in the slalom?
The answer was nail biting and her lead last until Lena Duerr came down with six to go. Duerr, herself lasted just one racer as her compatriot Maria Hoefl-Riesch managed to hold on to the lead. The vast leads in the start house were being whittled down with each racer. While the course was slowly going into the shade as the sun went down, the excitement was building.
When Maria Pietlilae Holmner dropped in behind Hoefl-Riesch this left four racers to go. Hoefl-Riesch had won the opening slalom two weeks prior to this race and while she had a half second gap to make up on Schild, the way she had skied the bottom section of the course, this lead many to believe that she could do it. No one told Schild that that was the script and the Austrian destroyed the German’s time. Could Schild now hold on?
Tina Maze made a few small mistakes at the top and yet you could feel that while she was still going, this was now a mission to gain as many points on the board before the tour heads to Canada and the speed events where Lindsey Vonn is expected to mass some bigs points, health permitting. Maze just held on to be in front of Hoefl-Riesch and the German’s shrug of the shoulders was evident that she did not expect to hold on to the podium position after Zettel had been down.
Zettel looked back to her best. It may have been almost three years since her last win but Zettel wanted the win. A small mistake at the top of the course had the crowd worried but by the time she crossed the line and the lights flashed up that it was a win for Austria, Schild had a smile but the grin and relief was all across Zettel’s face.
For Schild the wait for the illusive win number 34 will go on….