This season, the most exciting races on the women’s World Cup circuit have been the giant slalom events, where a number of women, vying for the GS Crystal Globe, have been showcasing their very best skiing. The weekend’s giant slalom and first-ever women’s parallel GS in Sestriere, Italy were no exception, with Saturday’s GS resulting in three racers storming the podium within 0.01 seconds of each other and the first parallel GS event ending in upsets and controversy. Here are the weekend’s World Cup racing highlights.
Vlhova, Brignone Tie for First, Shiffrin in Third by 0.01 Seconds
With all four giant slalom races this season producing four different winners, this event has proven to be any woman’s race, making it difficult to pick a frontrunner heading into each event. While Mikaela Shiffrin, winner of the last GS event in Lienz, may have had a slight edge going into Saturday’s GS in Sestriere, that edge disappeared after her first run, where a few small mistakes landed her in fourth.
Italy’s Federica Brignone, the current leader in the GS standings, posted the fastest first run time, a mere 0.17 seconds faster than Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and 0.36 seconds faster than Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg.
If spectators thought the first run was exciting, with the top four racers all within hundredths of a second of each other, it proved nothing in comparison to the second. Shiffrin skied as if her life depended on it, crossing the finish 0.37 seconds faster than Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener, who until then sat in the leader’s box. When Rebensburg then crossed the finish more than a second behind Shiffrin’s time, it was clear the race would come down to Shiffrin, Vlhova, or Brignone.
Vlhova skied a second very strong run, crossing the finish line just 0.01 seconds faster than Shiffrin’s combined time (though Shiffrin’s run would stand as the fastest second run). While Brignone’s second run was marked by a few slight errors, she crossed the finish line with the exact same combined time as Vlhova, tieing for the win and pushing Shiffrin to third by one-hundredth of a second.
“The level of GS is really high. Today it was super cool to see all the girls demonstrate really good skiing,” Shiffrin said after the race. “Everybody was just going for it. It was not an easy race, it was a big fight. In the end one-hundredth meant third today, but that’s how it goes sometimes. But last season I was on the lucky side of one-hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side.”
Holdener also found herself on the unlucky side of a few hundredths, having to settle for fourth place just 0.38 seconds behind Brignone’s and Vlhova’s winning time. Alice Robinson, the 17-year-old from New Zealand who stunned the world by winning the season-opening GS in Sölden, Austria, finished fifth, finally cracking the top 10 again after struggling to come back from an early-season knee injury.
See full Sestriere GS results here.
Thanks to the 100 points she collected for Saturday’s win, Brignone retains her lead in the World Cup GS rankings, 61 points ahead of Shiffrin. The American remains the overall point leader, however, 249 points ahead of Vlhova.
Favorites Eliminated Early in First-Ever Women’s Parallel GS
On Sunday, Sestriere hosted the first-ever parallel giant slalom event on the women’s World Cup circuit—an event modeled after the popular head-to-head slalom on the circuit but featuring two longer, side-by-side giant-slalom courses.
Shiffrin headed into Sunday’s event as the favorite, having won the qualifier race earlier that day. The usual suspects—Wendy Holdener, Petra Vlhova, and Marta Bassino—appeared to be Shiffrin’s main competition for the event, all finishing within half-a-second of Shiffrin’s qualifying time.
But in a major turn of events, none of these favorites made it past the 1/8 finals in the single elimination event. Instead, Vlhova was knocked out in the 1/16 finals by Switzerland’s Aline Danioth, while Holdener and Shiffrin were both eliminated in the 1/8 finals. France’s Clara Direz, who advanced to the next rounds after beating Shiffrin, went on to win the event and claim her first ever World Cup victory. Austria’s Elisa Moerzinger finished second and Italy’s Marta Bassino rounded out the podium in third. Shiffrin ended up in ninth, with teammate Nina O’Brien following closely in 11th place.
See full Sestriere Parallel GS results here.
The fact that the strongest giant slalom skiers on the World Cup were eliminated so early in the event, and racers who are not usually podium contenders made it to the final rounds, stirred up some questions about the legitimacy of this first-ever parallel giant slalom event, with fans taking to social media to criticize the race logistics as unfair.
A key concern was Sunday’s course setting. In parallel events, course setters do their best to set two nearly identical courses, so as not to give one racer an automatic advantage over their competitor racing in the other course. But throughout Sunday’s parallel GS event it became clear that the blue course was significantly faster than the red course. In the single-elimination heats, 17 races were won by skiers in the blue course, while only three won from the red course.
“There’s always a faster course,” Shiffrin told U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “But today it’s like they’re not even the same course at all. Especially in the last four or five gates on the blue course, you can even see just looking up the hill that it’s straighter than the red course.”
While disappointed by her result, Shiffrin was quick to say that she thought the new event had potential for adding more exciting racing to the World Cup circuit. “All in all, it’s fun and I think people like to watch it,” Shiffrin said. “It’s just a work in progress to make the event the best it can be. There’s still a lot of work FIS has to do to really make the race as even as it can be.”
From Sestriere the women’s World Cup now moves to Bansko, Bulgaria on Jan. 24-26 for the next speed events of the Tour, including a downhill race to make up the cancelled Val d’Isere downhill event. Shiffrin, who hasn’t raced in a speed event since she took third in the St. Moritz super-G on Dec. 14, has announced she will compete in Bansko.