Linus Straßer conquers Zagreb’s slope and wins for the first time a Slalom race in his career. The Austrian duo Feller-Schwarz is back on the podium after the Gran Risa challenge, with the first one of the two earning the red bib as provisional Slalom standings leader.
By Daphne Seberich
Linus Straßer wins at the tricky Zagreb slope for the first time in his career. The Munich native gets the Snow Queen Trophy after an incredible second run, beating the Slalom specialists Pinturault and Kristoffersen as well as provisional leader Clément Noël. Straßer ends a three-year success drought in Slalom for Germany, stepping into Felix Neureuther’s footsteps after his last win in Levi in 2017.
“I got a little bit emotional. I don’t really realize it”, Straßer said Wednesday after triumphing in the first men’s race of 2021.
The Austrian duo Manuel Feller-Marco Schwarz is back on the podium after a mediocre race in Madonna di Campiglio, earning Feller the red bib for the next race in Adelboden.
“This is one of the highlights of my career, I always wanted to have one,” Feller said. “It’s hard to believe for now.”
Starting as 8th after the first run, Straßer adapted the best to the tough Zagreb conditions, where the grass was peaking through the snow, recovering seven positions. He was not the MVP though, as Michael Matt went from 26th place all the way to fourth, just missing out on a podium by 30 hundredths of a second. It would’ve been one of the most incredible recoveries to date.
The slope was best suited for racers used to skiing in fresh, spring-ish powder, with not much grip and speed. Croatian skiers, trained by no other than Slalom legend Ivica Kostelić, seemed to adapt the best, all of them making it into the Top-30. No other team managed to place all their athletes in the second run.
The first athlete on Zagreb’s slope was Madonna di Campiglio winner Henrik Kristoffersen. He never quite got into the rhythm of the track set by Italian trainer Jacques Theolier, only finishing 11th after the first run.
Pinturault, Yule and Zenhäusern (Alta Badia Slalom winner) failed to deliver as well, only placing 7th, 12th and 14th in the first run. The times were abysmally apart from the leader. Being 92 hundredths of a second slower than the leader was the best time set by the three.
Photo credits: Teller Report, China Daily & Le Nouvelliste Switzerland
The athletes that adapted the best to conditions and course in the first half of the race were Clément Noël (last year’s winner of the Snow Queen trophy), Sebastian Foss-Solevaag and the Austrian duo Feller-Schwarz. They were the provisional Top-4 of the first run.
The surprises of the morning were undoubtedly Filip Zubcic and Stefan Hadalin, who never placed better in Slalom (10th and 5th in the first run). Even though Zubcic made numerous mistakes in his run, the Croatian skier was only one second off the best time set by Noël.
Zagreb was a big disappointment for the Italian ski team. 3rd place winner at the 3Tre and last year’s Zagreb’s 2nd runner-up Alex Vinatzer did not finish his run, straddling one of the gates in the middle section of his run. Mölgg and Gross did not qualify in the Top-30. Razzoli and Sala only settled for 27th and 28th place.
Many athletes with high bib numbers made it into the second run. Atle Lie McGrath, the runner-up of the Gran Risa Giant Slalom, started 15th with bib number 44. Taking risks didn’t pay off for him, losing three positions from the first run.
Michael Matt was the MVP of the second run, beating skiers that had an enormous time advantage against him and recovering from 26th place all the way to fourth. No one managed to beat him, not even Jakobsen, who is the king of resumption. With a 1:05 second bonus to Matt, the Swede fell at the steep part of the slope. Not giving up, he finished his run to collect points.
Zubcic barely missed out on a provisional first place by one-hundredth of a second, yet scoring his best Slalom placement ever, finishing the race in fifth position.
Only Straßer managed to set a competitive time to beat the resilient Michael Matt, albeit losing over eight-tenths of advantage to the Austrian.
Marco Schwarz doubled his bonus against Straßer in the first half of the slope but lost 16 hundredths at the finish line, earning provisional second with only three athletes to go.
Teammate Manuel Feller proved to be extremely consistent this season by never finishing out of the Top-4. During his run he risked everything to try to gain a significant advantage to win the Snow Queen race. Ten-hundredths of a second off the pace didn’t grant him the crown.
Sebastian Foss-Solevaag and Clément Noël’s performances were not on their competitor’s level . Even though they had an enormous advantage over Straßer to start the race, both fell back the ranking list, losing out on a podium opportunity.
An emotional Linus Straßer had the edge over the other skiers, with the Austrian duo Manuel Feller and Marco Schwarz to complete the podium.
Straßer regretted that the race on the outskirts of the Croatian capital took place without fans, as almost all World Cup events over the last year.
“Normally we have a big crowd here cheering for us and now it’s just us, just the small skiing family,” Straßer said. “It’s mixed feelings but I am really happy for winning my first special Slalom event. Not having the fans next to us is weird but, still, the emotions in me are hyped up.”
The next race in Adelboden will be key for the 2020/2021 Slalom standings as well as for the Overall ranking, where Pinturault is just ahead of Kilde. Who will earn the discipline’s Crystal Globe?