Sweet, sweet redemption.

Filip Zubcic proved to be superior to everyone in Bansko as the World Cup events restarted. After missing out on a championships medal, the Croatian had his sweet redemption on the Bulgarian slope.

Photo credits: Sportschau & GEPA

By Daphne Seberich

As the 2021 Cortina FIS Alpine World Ski Championships came to an end, the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup restarted for the men involved in Giant Slalom events. This time, the competitions moved to Bansko, Bulgaria, where the tricky snow conditions ensured a fun and entertaining racing spectacle for the viewers at home.

Only one could arise victorious in Bansko, and it was Filip Zubcic. The Croatian Giant Slalom superstar, who barely missed out on a medal in the Italian World Championships, placing in fourth, came back stronger than ever to secure the second victory of the season. We can also not forget to mention the astonishing record he has set. Filip Zubcic missed out on a Giant Slalom podium only three times in eleven races. 

Photo credits: FIS

The victory came down to the wire in the second run, but Mathieu Faivre can consider itself happy with second place. The Frenchman, who was crowned Giant Slalom World Champion in Cortina, has found the perfect balance. His victory has boosted his confidence. Faivre had only scored 96 points in six races before Cortina, whereas now his record states 180 in two events. A massive improvement in only three weeks. 

Completing the podium was a surprise “Wunderteam” member, Stefan Brennsteiner, who earned his first World Cup podium in his career. After the Hirscher era, no Austrian came close to winning in Giant Slalom. Today’s revelation might be the future for the Austrian ski team.  

Photo credits: SciareMag & Österreichischer Skiverband

Kicking-off the inversed leg, Italian skier from Bolzano Riccardo Tonetti finished in the Top-30 after the first run. A total time of 2:24.19 was the bar the other competitors had to beat. Unfortunately, Tonetti’s performance was penalized by one substantial mistake that was very costly for the overall performance. Filippo Della Vite’s first appearance in the élite 30 of any World Cup event, ended in success. He had previously entered only four races.84 hundredths of a second separated him from his teammate Tonetti.

South Tyrolean skier Hannes Zingerle, who I had the pleasure to interview in the Alta Badia Giant Slalom race back in December (click here for the video interview), was happy to start in the second run. His performance was, although, not perfect. It was enough to dethrone teammate Tonetti from the podium in third. Soon after, Mattias Rönngren took over Zingerle’s position in the rankings. 

After recovering three positions, Filippo Della Vite had to surrender the provisional leadership of the race to Slovenian Stefan Hadalin, who crossed the finish line 76 hundredths ahead of the Italian. Hadalin recovered over eight positions, beating athletes like Victor Muffat-Jeandet, Stefan Luitz and Gino Caviezel.

Photo credits: Race Ski Magazine

The silver medalist of the Cortina 2021 Giant Slalom World Championships Luca De Aliprandini, who finished 15th after the first run, was losing his advantage over Hadalin intermediate by intermediate. Youngster Della Vite officially became the best-ranked Italian of the competition. De Aliprandini ended his attempt behind his rookie teammate.

Hadalin’s comeback continued as his position recovery increased to ten. Only Thibaut Favrot managed to end the Slovenian march towards the Top-10, completing his run two tenths ahead of the provisional leader. Swiss athlete Justin Murisier, who placed third in the Alta Badia Giant Slalom, crossed the finish line in the same position as in the Italian competition. Slalom Champion Marco Schwarz then replaced the Swiss on the lowest step of the podium. 

“Wunderteam” athlete Manuel Feller took over the provisional lead of the race, beating Favrot’s time by 14 hundredths of a second. Loïc Meillard, who never finished outside the Top-6, had only a small advantage over the Austrian. Unfortunately, the last part of the piste proved to be time costly for the Swiss, ending his run in third behind Favrot.

Photo credits: NeveItalia & RSI

Young rising star Marco Odermatt, who was always a risk-taker, proved that his skiing style pays off. His intermediate’s incremented drastically in a positive way recovering over 7 tenths in the second part of the course. Crossing the finish line only 11 hundredths of a second ahead of Feller secured Odermatt the leadership of the race. 

Austrian Stefan Brennsteiner was the biggest surprise of the competition. Placing fifth the first run was already an impressive accomplishment by the Austrian, but serving over 59 hundredths to Odermatt was the revelation of the day. Henrik Kristoffersen completely missed the target of getting on the podium, incredibly ending in 17th place behind Italian Della Vite, who recovered twelve positions. 

Overall standings leader Alexis Pinturault, who was going for a fourth consecutive win in Giant Slalom, had the most insane leg ever. Not even after a quarter of the run, the French superstar lost his right pole and had to continue his performance with a substantial handicap. Considering this, Pinturault ending in second place behind Brennsteiner was an outstanding performance. 

Video rights: FIS & Infront Sports & Media AG

Filip Zubcic, who I interviewed in Alta Badia as well (click here for the video interview), was on his A-game. His run was flawless and extremely fast. The already green intermediates increased section by section. Finishing his run 93 hundredths of a second ahead of Brennsteiner was a statement. He was not there to play. Provisional first-run leader Faivre had a tough task ahead of his second attempt and had to deal with a lot of pressure.

Cortina 2021 Giant Slalom World Champion Mathieu Faivre was keeping up with Zubcic’s time, but the Croatian just had another pace. The newly crowned World Champion managed to earn a podium position but couldn’t beat the incredible Zubcic. Faivre squeezed between the leader and Brennsteiner to complete the podium.

Zubcic won for the third time in his career after Santa Caterina Valfurva in December and Niigata Yuzawa Naeba in February 2020. His victory also closed the gap to Giant Slalom standings leader Pinturault, who has now only a 22-points lead over the Croatian star. The competitions are not over for the weekend, as Bansko will host a second event on Sunday. Will Zubcic aim for back-to-back victories?

Photo credits: Rai Sport

Pinturalts steps out from Tomba’s shadow

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. 

Alexis Pinturault & Alberto Tomba – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

Complete photo gallery here

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. 

Alta Badia – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

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?

Alberto Tomba – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

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.

Atle Lie McGrath – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

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. 

Video rights: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

“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. 

Video rights: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

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. 

Atle Lie McGrath – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

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’’.

Alexis Pinturault – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

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”.

Atle Lie McGrath – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

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”.

Podium – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport

The athletes have a long season ahead. Who will prevail? 

Overall standings 20/12/20 – photo credits: Daphne Seberich for Ready Set Sport