Fenninger puts in a commanding performance to win in Semmering

Anna Fenninger demonstrated just how much she enjoys racing between Christmas and New Year with her second successive World Cup win at this time of the year. Having won her first World Cup race this time last year in Lienz, the diminutive but powerful Austrian crushed the first run to lead by over half a second (0.56 seconds) from Tessa Worley and Tina Maze (0.90 seconds back). With the soft snow and the gentle slopes giving later runners little chance, this was a race for the racer light of foot. Worley and Maze swapped places after the second run to give Maze her ninth podium of the season.

With light snow falling almost all the way through both runs of the race, Fenninger, from a start number of 4, was head and shoulders above the rest of the field in the first run. To be fast you had to be clean, tidy and smooth on the skis. With the Panorama slope in Semmering not the steepest or demanding slope on the World Cup tour, even a small mistake like dropping a hand, cost valuable time. Lara Gut was one of many racers to feel the strength of the wind across the top flats and this ruined her chances of success. Sometimes you just do not have the luck of timing and this was one of those moments for Gut on the first run.

With the highest number to qualify for the second run being number 38, Veronique Hronek from Germany, this was a hard run for the later numbers. The fact that only one racer all day crashed out and failed to finish (Anna Swenn-Larsson from Sweden), may say something about the difficulty of the hill. With the course setting requiring clean turns across the top flats and then two turns onto steeper sections, demanding clean turns; racers that got bumped around and pushed on to their inside ski, soon found they had lost chunks of time. With each run just over a minute, there was no possibility to gain time back that had been lost.

The second run was where all the excitement was to be had. This was not in terms of crashes or huge errors but in terms of fast skiing and small errors costing time.

Nadia Fanchini from Italy was the first racer to really make a stake on the leaders enclosure. Coming down sixth, the Italian held on to the lead for ten racers before Maria Pietilae-Holmner edged her out. Then there was almost a merry go round in the leaders enclosure as the young American Superstar Mikaela Shiffrin started putting roots down in the leaders enclosure. Shiffrin, who won in the Slalom in Are just prior to Christmas is just 17 years old and making a great name for herself in both technical disciplines.

Shiffrin held the lead until Kathrin Zettel came down. Zettel has won in Semmering in the past and is a local girl. Had the race stopped there and then, the crowd would have gone home happy.

With various parts of the course breaking up and upsetting the rhythm of the race, the shovels came out and with seven to go, it was anyone’s guess as to who would hold out for the win. This was a race that if you blinked you would lose out.

Frida Hansdotter was one to blink and she slipped down the leaderboard. Next up was the outgoing defending World Cup Giant Slalom Champion, Viktoria Rebensburg. The German overhauled the lead of Lindell-Vikarby by half a second and you could see that she was heading in the right direction but would it be enough. Still the snow was falling but the cloud that had threatened to play a more significant role started to move away from the top of the course.

With Maria Hoefl-Riesch over a second behind Fenninger after the first run, she knew that she had to give it her all for the second run to try and make it onto the podium. Hoefl-Riesch has had a quiet season this year yet still sits second in the Overall race, a whopping great 417 points (after this race) behind Maze. The delight was etched across her face as she came down to take the lead with just three to go. Hoefl-Riesch said afterwards that despite it being fourth place, she was still really happy with the result. “These are the best girls in the world and it is good to be up there fighting with them,” she explained.

The time Hoefl-Riesch spent in the leaders enclosure was brief as Maze came down and showed her intent by increasing the time difference between the two of them to over half a second. Two left. Next up was Worley.

Tessa Worley said after the race that it is hard to get on the podium when all the racers are skiing so well so she was happy. “I am trying to ski more consistent all the time so I am pretty satisfied with this.” Worley was always close to Maze’s times but the Slovenian was always just faster and this remained the way at the finish line.

So as Fenninger prepared herself for the run of her life, would Maze hold on for the win or would Fenninger make this her second career World Cup win?

If Fenninger was nervous she hardly showed it.  The top section of the course is flat and requires the racers to be low and smooth, clean and fast. There is not much opportunity to gain speed so Fenninger, with almost a second advantage over Maze, the leader in the finish, could have been excused for relaxing a little. She would have none of this and told herself in the start hut that without risk there would be no fun. She attacked all the way down and was rewarded with not only the win but also the fastest second run time as well. This was an awesome performance.

After the race the Austrian said that she was not thinking about the winning margin but was just trying to ski well: She certainly showed this. Fenninger showed that she can ski well both when the snow is soft as per the first run and also when it is bumpy, as per the second run.

So Fenninger took the win that lifts her to fourth in the race for the Overall and also fourth in the Giant Slalom standings. Maze is out of sight in the Giant Slalom race, she leads by 198 points with two races left ahead of Kathrin Zettel. In the race for the overall Hoefl-Riesch faces a deficit of 417 points; Zettel is third a further 80 points adrift. Lindsey Vonn is fifth behind Fenninger and is targeting a comeback at St Anton in the New Year.

The Slalom on Saturday night will see no Marlies Schild as the Austrian’s season is over after she injured her right knee in the warm up to the Are Slalom.