Lara Gut may only be 22 but she has now notched up wins in Downhill, Super G and now Giant Slalom with her victory in the opening race of the Women’s Audi FIS World Cup. In almost perfect conditions, Gut put a huge gap between herself and the rest of the field after the first run and then held on, despite admitting to being slightly nervous, for the second run. A superb charge on the second run from Kathrin Zettel saw her move up from fourth after the first run to second with Viktoria Rebensburg taking third ahead of Anna Fenninger. The crowd of 11,000 that made it up the winding road from Soelden to the Rettenbach Glacier were treated to some great racing by the young Swiss star as she started the season off with a win.
With the late disqualification of Emi Hasegawa for an illegal binding on her ski from the first run handing Julia Mancuso the opportunity to open up the second run, this gave her the chance to atone for her first run that had seen her just over four seconds off the blindingly fast pace set by Gut. Mancuso is a big event skier and although she put in a quality second run she was soon off the leader board.
The first run had seen the times clustered together with many groups yet it was only when Dominique Gisin, in 19th after the first run, took the lead that you felt she could spice things up a little. Gisin showed the rest of the field that through the middle section, there was speed to be gained and the more speed that the racer could hold across the flats to the finish, the faster they would be. Gisin held her speed and while many of the rest of the racers were ahead of the Swiss racer at the start and then the first two splits on the second Â run, by the time they crossed the finish, Gisin was still in front. Despite the shadow creeping across the slope, speeding the snow up, Gisin held on to the lead for ten racers.
Marie Pietilae-Holmner was the first to knock Gisin off the lead and then the podium became like a revolving door: Gisinn was soon down to third as Jessica Lindell-Vikarby took second behind her Swedish team mate. Tina Weirather then took the lead, pushing Gisin off the podium all together.
After a performance that surprised all on the first run by Tina Maze, she had been so dominant here last year, much was expected by Maze on the second run. From sixth she dropped down to 13th by the time she finished. Maze would eventually drop to 18th. Maze admitted after the race that she has not been skiing well in training and was lacking in confidence. Add this to that that every one has been looking at her while she trained and the pressure told. instead of losing tenths of the second with a mistake, she admitted she was now losing seconds.
Mikaela Shiffrin, still only 18 yet a major star on the world tour, was clean and tidy and dropped into second behind Weirather. Then came the run of the day! Kathrin Zettel was in fourth after the first run, 1.07 seconds behind Gut yet had a lead of over a second on Weirather at the start. The split times show just how much fight and determination the winner of Soelden back in 2008, was putting in: 1.17 at the start went to 1.22 at the first split and then 1.49 at the second. by the time she crossed the line Zettel was just shy of three quarters of a second ahead of Weirather. With three to come would her clean and smart run be enough?
Anna Fenninger was next up. While the top was good and she had increased her advantage over her Austrian teammate by a third of a second, coming down the steep she started to feel tired she admitted afterwards and then made the smallest of mistakes that saw her scrub some speed off. With as much speed as possible required to carry across the flats, Fenninger faught as hard as she could to stay in touch. She crossed the line half a second down on Zettel and now had to rely on Rebensburg or Gut to make a mistake to keep her on the podium.
Her wish was nearly granted as Rebensburg made the same mistake on the steep but although she had six hundredths of an advantage at the start this had grown by the steep. Rebensburg managed to eek out enough speed to keep her in second place by the finish.
Switzerland had waited since 2003, Sonja Nef in Bormio, for a World Cup win in the women’s Giant Slalom and while Nef’s husband now coaches the Swiss girls team, the pressure on Gut to end this hoodoo was immense. Gut is a talented racer across the speed disciplines and after this race explained that she now feels that she is back to her best and what she can do in GS. While she admits that she did not like first run as it was not turny enough for her, she was confident that the Italian coach would set a much turnier course for the second run. While the lead was restricted to a mere 0.84 seconds after the second run, this was a great result for the Swiss racer.
So Gut wins her first GS on the World Cup, Zettel returns to form, Rebensburg is back in the mix and happy and Fenninger is happy with fourth after being fifth last year and sixth the year before! Three nations on the podium on three different brands.
The World Cup is back!
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