25 years after the first ever World Cup event hold on the spectacular Rettenbacher glacier located high above the Tyrolean resort of Soelden, the local organizing committee was hoping to celebrate another exhilarating weekend of racing this year after months of splendid weather in that part of the Alps.
Unfortunately difficult weather conditions including low visibility, strong gusts of wind and heavy snowfalls jeopardized the plans of the organizers to offer another thrilling weekend of racing to the thousands of spectators expected as usual to watch the two giant slalom races of the now traditional “Grand Opening” of the 53rd World Cup season.
In fact, only the women’s giant slalom could take place on Saturday on an outmost challenging slope while Sunday’s men’s race had to be cancelled in the early morning by the race jury and the OC because of heavy snow falls and stormy winds in the upper part of the course.
Fortunately, that first competition was as exciting as dramatic with the very best GS specialists fighting for victory in this prestigious Opening attended by over ten thousand spectators. Taking impressive risks in both runs set on the very bumpy course, France’s Tessa Worley was able to beat the finest experts onsite such as Italy’s Federica Brignone, a winner in that race three years ago and an Olympic bronze medalist at PyeongChang last winter. She came in 2nd at 35/100 of a second shy from the winner.
The defending overall World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin finished 3rd at 94/100 and reached her fourth podium in five years in Soelden where she beat the rest of the field back in October 2014. That group was closely followed by another ski ace, Germany’s Viktoria Rebenburg, the 2018 giant slalom World Cup champion and a two-time victor on the Rettenbacher glacier in recent years.
Gabriela Capova was the only Czech skier at the start of that giant slalom. The 25-year-old slalom specialist from Ostrava who scored a promising 19th place in Zagreb back in January 2015, unfortunately didn’t qualify for the second run this time.
13th win for Tessa Worley.
Worley, a two-time giant slalom World Champion in 2013 and 2017, was particularly glad and proud of her thirteenth World Cup win as she could never prevail on the treacherous Rettenbach glacier so far. The 29-year-old was a close 2nd a year ago – but the French veteran wanted more this year.
“I have learned my lesson last winter losing too much time in the first leg, so this year I attacked much harder in the morning run to remain among the favorites before the second run,” she explained afterwards. “I trust in my capacities to move at my limits in the afternoon so I felt very confident on my way down, and charged as hard as possible. I didn’t want to have any regrets,” she added. “Yet I must say that the conditions were extremely difficult, it was nearly impossible to control the skis today. It was not nice skiing – but at the end of the day, it was foremost important to be fast and aggressive from top to bottom.”
A disappointed 5th a year ago, Shiffrin was glad to find her way back to the podium this year after two consecutive strong runs. “The second run there was much more fight. It wasn’t pretty and there are many things I can improve,” the American admitted after the race. “I made some mistakes as everybody I guess, but I was fighting hard and that was a really positive thing. It’s a good step for the season. I really enjoy battling with the other top-specialists who are also good friends before and after the races. We all skied with huge determination today. I believe it’ll again be a tough battle for top-spots in that specialty.”
During her post-race interview, the American also mentioned her joy to return this season to two resorts which strongly marked her career in past years. “I’m pretty eager to return in February to Are, in Sweden, for the FIS World Championships after having enjoyed my maiden World Cup win there six years ago – and then to Spindleruv Mlyn, where my World Cup career started in March 2011, it surely will be special for me to be back there this winter,” explained the skier from Colorado who didn’t qualify in both races that year.
In the meantime, she entered over 130 World Cup competitions, winning 43 of them and standing 63 times in total on the podium – quite a remarkable statistic for the 23-year-old. At Soelden, Mikaela also informed the media about her wish to again enter races in all specialties this coming season. She only needs a win in Super-G to become part of the “Hall of Famers” having triumphed in all of them in her career. Last winter, she surprisingly clinched the second downhill at Lake Louise, Canada, where she plans to return next month.
The next technical competitions are scheduled in three weeks at Levi, in Finland, where two slaloms for women and men are planned on the nice ‘Black Levi’ run mid November.
Written by: Patrick Lang