Too little snow caused FIS World Cup race officials to cancel the women’s third World Cup downhill and Super G events slated to take place on December 14 in Val d’Isere, France, and move both to three days later in Val Gardena, Italy—traditionally a men’s course on the World Cup circuit. For the racers who spend a lot of time preparing mentally and visualizing a certain course, the new venue and delayed start may have caused some added nerves and pressure.
That was apparently not the case for Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec. In Monday’s downhill race Stuhec took the new course in stride and skied to her first World Cup victory since a knee injury sustained in the fall of 2017 caused her to miss the entire last World Cup season. Then, the very next day, she also won the Val Gardena Super G.
Val Gardena Women’s Downhill
Stuhec, the 2016-’17 overall World Cup downhill and alpine combined champion, finished 0.14 seconds ahead of Italy’s own Nicol Delago, who nabbed her first World Cup podium in front of her home crowd. Austria’s Ramona Siebehofer finished in third, 0.51 seconds behind Stuhec.
The Val Gardena course is not an easy one. The ladies’ start gate sends racers into a long, flat section before the first steep pitch, making a strong start critical to picking up speed and time to carry into the rest of the course. This is where Stuhec bested her competitors, pushing and skating out of the start until past the first gate, then getting low and letting her skis carry that speed into the steeps. That first section, along with the difficult middle section featuring various compressions and rolls that proved difficult for many racers to absorb smoothly, is where Stuhec won the race.
“The start is very, very important on this course because it’s very flat,” Siebenhofer said in a press conference after the race. “Ilka is very good [there].”
“I was a thinking about how it would be on a men’s slope, but they changed a little bit on the course setting,” Stuhec said. “The first time on a new slope is sometimes a little bit difficult, but I had no problems in my first run. I didn’t expect such a good result. I’ve had problems in the past to show my good trainings in the races, so I’m really happy that today it worked.”
The biggest surprise of Monday’s race was Italy’s Nicol Delago, ranked 28th in the world in downhill last season. The 22-year-old was slower than Stuhec and Siebenhofer out of the gate, and was 0.30 seconds behind Stuehc’s leading time at the third interval, but somehow recovered so much speed in the final third of the course that she crossed the finish only 0.14 seconds behind Stuhec’s leading time.
“It’s incredible for me,” Delago said. “I’m so, so happy that I can race at home and it went so well. I think I gave everything I have from the start to the finish. I don’t think I could have done better.”
American Laurenne Ross, racing with bib 12 between Siebenhofer and Stuhec, had an impressive start to her run, posting a faster time at the first interval than Siebenhofer. But in the difficult middle section of the course, Ross was almost bucked off a roller and landed on her tails and outside of her line, losing substantial time and ultimately finishing outside of the top 30.
U.S. teammate Alice Merryweather, who had a very impressive final training run on the Val Gardena course which ranked her sixth, was not quite able to bring the same speed in the race, though she was able to score another top 30 finish to add points to her overall World Cup tally.
Val Gardena Women’s Super G
Conspicuously absent from the podium on Monday’s downhill race was Austria’s Nicole Schmidhofer, who was considered a frontrunner after her season-opening back-to-back downhill wins in Lake Louise. Schmidhofer finished 10th in Monday’s downhill, 1.20 seconds off Stuhec’s winning time.
In Tuesday’s Super G event, Schmidhofer skied faster. Racing with bib number 5, she crossed the finish line with the fastest time up to that point, 0.38 seconds ahead of Germany’s Viktoria Rebensburg, who finished third in the Lake Louise Super G and is always a serious contender in the event.
But after Schmidhofer, Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein launched herself out of the start gate with bib number 9. Throughout the first half of the course, Weirather at times beat Schmidhofer to the splits, then fell narrowly behind. At the third interval, Weirather’s time matched Schmidhofer’s, and she crossed the finish line tied with Schmidhofer for first place.
Congratulations and celebrations among the two in the leader box were short lived—next up was Monday’s downhill winner Ilka Stuhec. Though Stuhec bobbled while skating out of the start gate and then almost skied out of the course when one of the course’s rollers launched her outside of her line, Stuhec managed to recover just enough to cross the finish line 0.05 seconds of Weirather and Schmidhofer, granting Stuhec her second World Cup win of the season.
The only two Americans to race—Laurenne Ross and Alice Merryweather—finished outside of the top 30.
Shiffrin and Vonn Will Be Back
Mikaela Shiffrin, who won the first two World Cup Super G races of the season in Lake Louise and St. Moritz, did not start in Val Gardena, opting to skip the downhill event in favor of focusing on the upcoming technical events scheduled to take place in Courchevel, France on Dec. 21-22.
Lindsey Vonn, who has been unable to start in any events so far this season due to a knee injury sustained in a training run at Copper Mountain in October, announced on social media that she has received the green light from her medical team to return to World Cup racing in January. Her first races will likely be the downhill and Super G events in St. Anton, Austria on Jan. 10-13.
See the full results of Monday's and Tuesday's races in Val Gardena here.