Saturday’s men’s giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, may very well have been the coming-out party for the next generation of World Cup GS greats. With an average podium age of only 23, two of the top finishers had never stood on a World Cup podium before and were joined by another two racers that had never ventured inside of a giant slalom top 10.
Things did not get off to such an exciting start, however, as heavy fog greeted racers and fans for the morning’s inspection. Organizers eventually made the call to delay the start a full two hours to 11:30 CET with the hope that the weather would clear. Thankfully, the clouds parted and cast the legendary Podkoren slope in sunshine as racing eventually got underway with full-on spring conditions in the late morning.
The “Pokal Vitranc”, or “Vitranc Cup,” as the races are known, pre-date the modern World Cup and have been held every year since 1961, making this year’s edition the 58th running of the iconic race. Kranjska Gora does not look like your typical well-known World Cup stop, either. The Podkoren venue, which is about a five minute drive from the town of Kranjska Gora, consists of a single chairlift and a few runs nestled in the trees of Northwest Slovenia, near the Italian and Austrian borders. If you aren’t careful, you’ll drive right past it and not think twice.
One racer that will not soon forget this World Cup stop is Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen. After winning gold in last month’s World Championship GS in Are, Sweden, the 24-year-old phenom has been unstoppable in the discipline. The Norwegian won in Bansko, Bulgaria, soon after and took his third GS win in a row on Saturday with a two-run time of 2:26.63 seconds. The story of the day, however, was who joined him on the podium as two newbies to the top of the World Cup, Norway’s Rasmus Windingstad and Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt, finished in second and third, 0.24 and 0.56 seconds back, respectively.
“I think everyone is pushing everyone,” Kristoffersen said of the current crop of men’s GS skiers. “Me and Marco have been traveling a little bit together and he’s a really good guy and me and Rasmus have been friends since we were six years old. We have been in the skiing gymnasium together, Europa Cup together, now World Cup together so it’s really cool.”
Kristofferson has been a man on a mission in GS over the past few seasons after making a name for himself in slalom in his early years on the World Cup. Kristoffersen also made his World Cup debut in the Kranjska Gora slalom back in 2012 as a fresh-faced 17-year-old.
“I think it’s a lot of years of work,” he continued about his recent success. “The last two years we really worked because three years ago the GS was not good so we worked and worked and now it’s paying off. I didn’t know [Windingstad was in the lead], I watched Rasmus’ run at the start and it was a really good one. I didn’t know that it was going to hold for the podium but, Jesus, he was skiing good today! Chapeau both for Rasmus and for Marco as well.”
For Windingstad, a strong showing in Kranjska Gora last season left him feeling confident in his abilities on Saturday to capture his first career World Cup podium. Both Windingstad and Kristoffersen were ecstatic in the finish and credited their extensive time skiing on wet, salted spring snow in Norway as key to their success.
“I don’t know what to say,” Windingstad admitted after the race. “This is way over my expectations for this year or even thought my level was right now. Of course, today there were a lot of things that were perfect for me. The snow, the hill, I had a lot of confidence from this hill from last year. When I was inspecting in the first run, even though it was foggy, I knew that this was snow that I mastered pretty well. With bib 19 and a seventh place after the first run I knew that maybe I can do something here and I just went for it. I want to ski fast and I want to see where my level is right now and of course, this is way too much to ask for.”
If it weren’t for an untimely DNF by a third Norwegian, Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen, the Attacking Vikings looked to be on their way to a rare podium sweep. Odermatt, however, managed to jump from 15th place after the first run and deliver on Swiss expectations for him after the 21-year-old captured an incredible four gold medals at the 2018 World Junior Championships. It was also Odermatt’s first World Cup podium.
“I’m really, really happy,” Odermatt told the press. “I’ve always dreamed about a day like this but I never thought it would happen so early in my career so I’m really, really happy with this. We will see [what the future holds], hopefully another podium but the season is nearly over and we will work hard during the summer and we will see what the new season brings. I felt really good but it wasn’t that easy because the snow was a little bit slushy and it’s difficult to ski, you don’t know how much pressure you have to give. I gave the right pressure and skied really good for me and it was a perfect run.”
Canada’s Trevor Philp also skied brilliantly and landed in eighth, his first GS top 10, leading the North American skiers.
“It was such an amazing day today,” Philp said. “My first top-10 in GS, to qualify for World Cup Finals, and to do it in front of so many friends and family here in Slovenia – I couldn’t be happier. To have my mom here for such a moment is so special too, it’s a day I’ll remember.”
For the Americans, Tommy Ford led the way in 14th place and was followed by Ryan Cochran-Siegle in 18th. Ted Ligety finished in 23rd to round out the American top-30 finishers. Reigning World Junior GS champion, River Radamus, and Brian McLaughlin did not qualify for the second run and Nicholas Krause did not finish his first run.
The men now race slalom in Kranjska Gora, on Sunday, March 10.
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Rasmus Windingstad (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Marco Odermatt (SUI)- Stoeckli/Salomon
- Cedric Noger (SUI)- Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Loic Meillard (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Trevor Philp (CAN)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Zan Kranjec (SLO)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Manuel Feller (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic