The French Alpine Skiing superstar conquers for the first time the Gran Risa and ties with Alberto Tomba for the most wins in the Alpine Ski World Cup Giant Slalom discipline.
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By Daphne Seberich
The Gran Risa: one, if not, the most famous and spectacular Giant Slalom race of the Alpine Ski Men’s World Cup. An incredible steepness and technical challenges are characteristics that make the athletes look forward to this race. Whoever has conquered the icy snow track of the Italian mountain in the past is considered as one of the greatest of all time.
Marcel Hirscher (six wins, six GS World Cup and eight Overall World Cup championships), Alberto Tomba (four race wins and GS World Cup and one Overall World Cup championship) and Ingemar Stenmark (one win, seven GS World Cup and three Overall World Cup championships), legends of Alpine Skiing, have all won the race held in Alta Badia. It led to Tomba and Hirscher winning the Crystal Globe of the Giant Slalom discipline respectively four and five times during the season they triumphed at the Gran Risa. Could this be the year Pinturault finally wins the Overall World Cup trophy he, by the skin of one’s teeth, lost to Aleksander Aamodt Kilde the past season?
Nobody managed to do better than the 29-year-old Frenchman (2’27’’19), the leader at the end of the first run. Top-athletes like Kranjec (sixth after the first run), Zubcic (second after the first run) and Odermatt (GS World Cup current leader, third after the first run) set very competitive times as well, putting pressure on the leader starting last in the second run.
A big surprise of the morning session was 20-year-old Norwegian Atle Lie McGrath, who, after starting with bib number 29, qualified for the second run in fourth place.
The Italian Ski Team could not have done worse on home soil. The best-ranked and favorite of the ‘Azzurri’ Luca De Aliprandini missed the gates right at the start of his first run, resulting in a DNF. Many other Italian athletes did not complete the course as well. Riccardo Tonetti, a Bolzano native, ended up to be the only ‘Azzurro’ to manage to qualify for the second run.
Hannes Zingerle, born and raised in Alta Badia, suffered from an incident in the end zone, missing out on a potential spot in the Top-30. During his interview with Ready Set Sport, he explained how the fall happened and how mistakes affect him mentally in preparation for the next races.
“Just before the finish line, I hit a snow wave being too far in a backward lean. That put me out of balance. Making it to the end was just impossible”, said Zingerle, “At the moment, things are not going as I’d wish they were”.
Answering the question regarding his psychological state, Zingerle explained how being a professional implies psychological preparation and failures are to be expected and dealt with accordingly. “I mean, it is normal that some races are not going as you wished for, but you still have to fight through those moments”, says Zingerle. “With training, patience and a lot of hard work you get back on track.”
Filip Zubcic answered some questions as well ahead of the second run. After winning the Giant Slalom race in Santa Caterina Valfurva on the 5th of December and placing third at the one on the 7th, he explained what his expectations at the Gran Risa were. He is undoubtedly one of the favorites to win the Giant Slalom Crystal Globe this season as well as a contender for the Overall championship.
Zubcic commented on the conditions of the slope as well: “The terrain is really tricky, it’s difficult to find the rhythm and because the terrain is changing a lot the snow is not so easy”.
At the start of the second run, the only qualified Italian skier Riccardo Tonetti set the fastest time and kept the leadership of the race until German Alexander Schmidt managed to beat the ‘Azzurro’. The ‘Bolzanino’ ended up ranking eleventh.
In an interview with RAI Ladinia, Tonetti expressed his feelings about his performance and his physical shape, having just recovered from a bone fracture in his hand. He was very pleased by his result, but not from the overall level his teammates at FISI (Federazione Italiana Sport Invernali) displayed. The public at the Gran Risa traditionally played a big factor for him and he felt that the passion of fans was missing at the most special Giant Slalom race of the season.
Swiss skier Justin Murisier was the provisional leader when Norwegian sensation McGrath, who, even though, made a substantial mistake in his run, incredibly set the fastest time, putting him at the top of the ranking with only three athletes to go.
Filip Zubcic, who had high expectations before the second run, only managed to finish 9th ahead of the last remaining skier Alexis Pinturault.
Pinturault didn’t have the best run, but it was good enough to secure him the race win ahead of McGrath for only 0.07 seconds.
The winner of the 2020 Alta Badia Giant Slalom event said: “This year I was always close to the podium in the giant slalom, but I did not manage to take the podium for a matter of hundredths. McGrath did an incredible race already in the first run, given his bib number, and he pushed even more in the second run. It wasn’t easy, but I did everything I could to be ahead, and I made it. It was great to win in front of Alberto Tomba and to know that I reached his record number of giant slalom victories: I am so proud of this achievement because it brings me closer to a legend like him. I think that the organizers did a great job in grooming and preparing the slope today, and this is evidenced by the fact that many athletes with a high bib number managed to finish the first run in the top 30 positions. The slope was really good also in the second run’’.
McGrath was very excited about getting on the podium for the first time in his career and commented on his second place: “Never before have I been as speechless as I am today after the race. At the start, I thought that I only wanted to enjoy myself, also because it was the first time that I could do the entire slope of the Gran Risa since last year we had to start from lower down due to the weather. I really enjoyed it. And if you enjoy what you are doing, it is easier. With my first podium, I caught up with my dad, who took second place in a World Cup Slalom (Aare 1988). Now I want to edge him out”.
The podium was completed by the Swiss Justin Murisier (third, 0.24 seconds behind), who showed up at the press conference wearing a mask with a picture of his smile: “In a period like this, I am happy to bring some joy and smiles because we must hope for better times. Getting on my first podium here is fantastic. I can’t find the right words to describe what I feel. I have been racing in the World Cup since 2010 and I have had to get over so many injuries, including four to my right knee. I am convinced that this slope loves me because I was fourth here in 2017. Anyway, it’s mutual love. I adore it”.
The athletes have a long season ahead. Who will prevail?