Marco Schwarz can’t hold back. His physical and mental shape make him unstoppable. The Austrian wins on home soil at the Planai night race under the lights and arrives at the Cortina 2021 World Championships with an impressive podium streak.
By Daphne Seberich
It was a different feel in Schladming, which usually welcomes more than 40.0000 fans, but the racers nevertheless put on a show for the TV audience in snowy skies.
Under the lights in Schladming, Marco Schwarz continued his strong season, winning on home soil in Schladming for his second victory of 2021. It was the sixth podium for Schwarz this season. He’s heading into the FIS World Ski Championships in Cortina with massive positive momentum.
“It’s pretty amazing to win in Schladming. It’s the classic to win. It was tough to come back from sixth place in the first run, but to win feels pretty amazing,” said Schwarz after the win.
The final top three were nowhere near the podium position heading into the second run, with all well out of range of the top three. But heavy snowfall made the conditions unpredictable for the entire field.
The technical disciplines specialized men now have one task: give their best shot at the Cortina D’Ampezzo FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 2021. Schwarz, Feller and Noël are the favorites to take the Slalom win on February 21st.
The icy slope topped by fresh powder snow complicated everyone’s plans for a smooth run.
Manuel Feller was undoubtedly the one to beat after the first run. With 39 hundredths of a second advantage over second-placed Foss-Solevaag, he had the best odds to take the win at the Schladminger Planai.
Zagreb-winner Linus Straßer had to recover from 26th place after the first run. His hopes were crushed as he straddled one of the gates after the first intermediate.
An angry and disappointed Henrik Kristoffersen had the same task as Straßer: Recover the most time as possible against the Top-10 after the first run. A 1.04-second advantage against provisional leader Read was enough to recover some ground.
Filip Zubcic was the closest to challenge Kristoffersen’s lead, but a fatal mistake in the last sector ended in him crossing the line with 9.7 seconds of disadvantage. British skier Dave Ryding and Tanguy Nef had no chance to beat the blistering time of the Norwegian. The arhythmic track set by Italian coach Julien Theolier gave a tough task to the athletes. Only Kristoffersen managed to interpret the slope the best.
Starting as 15th after the first run, Loïc Meillard ended Kristoffersen’s chances of winning. A stopwatch error didn’t declare him as the new provisional leader right away, but rewatching the footage, the Swiss was declared the new clear leader of the race.
Alexis Pinturault was literally on fire. With an impeccable performance, the Flachau podium winner served Meillard 85 seconds of advantage. This run challenged not only the Swiss but, more importantly, the provisional first-run leader Manuel Feller. The Overall title is in his hands.
Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Grange and South Tyrolean Manfred Mölgg, the veterans of the competition and legends of the discipline, were challenged by the tricky layout of the Planai. Both couldn’t reach the provisional podium positions.
Red bib wearer Marco Schwarz made a statement with his second run: He is here and here to stay. No one will take the red bib away from him. Although Pinturault set the best time of the season, the Austrian beat the Frenchman to the leader position by 0.82 seconds. Clement Noël replaced his teammate soon after for the runner-up spot.
Alta Badia Slalom winner Ramon Zenhäusern was not in his best shape. After his triumph on Italian soil, the Swiss never recovered and proved himself not to be worthy of a podium position. Quite a disappointing season so far for the Slalom giant.
The moment of truth arrived. Feller challenged Schwarz for the win. Incredibly after the first gates, the Austrian straddled one of them and granted the Planai title to his teammate. Schwarz only missed out once on the podium out of seven races and set 110 points between himself and his teammate in the Slalom standings after the Schladming event.
The French Clement Noël and Alexis Pinturault completed the podium. After a third place in the second Flachau competition, the Overall standings leader is back on the lowest step of the podium, proving to be in the best shape of his life.
The Cortina World Championships will be a true test for all the athletes. Who will be crowned Slalom World Champion this time?