Knee-rattling, unrelenting, complicated by shady sections and producing speeds in excess of 85 miles-per-hour, the Stelvio downhill in Bormio is as demanding as any on the World Cup.
“The old Stelvio is how she is always is – just dark, pretty icy and definitely bumpy everywhere,” said U.S. racer Bryce Bennett, following his opening training run on Saturday.
“It’s so bumpy, rattly and dark – now it’s gametime cause we’re at the ‘real deal’ downhills,” Travis Ganong says about the upcoming third downhill of the season.
Racers kick out of the starthouse at an altitude of 2,225 meters and are immediately confronted by a 63% gradient before launching off the “La Rocca” Jump, a fast and adrenaline-induced start to the roughly two-minute, two-mile course.
“It’s in your face right out of the start, you’re going very fast, very quickly, probably up to 90 mile-per-hour ten seconds into it,” said Bennett, who finished a career best fourth on the Stelvio two seasons ago.
“Right out of the gate is an opportunity to just put the hammer down and take a little more risk,” he said. “For those willing to take it, I think you can gain few tenths there.”
The U.S. downhillers arrive in Bormio feeling the positive vibes from last weekend’s stellar performance in Val Gardena, in which Ryan-Cochran Siegle led the charge, posting a second place downhill finish, a career best result. Bennett was fourth, narrowly missing the top-three podium by 0.08 seconds, and Jared Goldberg was sixth, also a career best.
Cochran-Seigle clocked the fastest training runs on both Saturday and Sunday on the Stelvio, gaining valuable time on the shaded, lower section of the course.
“I’ve had a few good training runs, especially in the past, some good racing as well last year for this downhill track,” Cochran-Siegle tells Ski Racing Media.
“I have a good general feeling and understanding for where this hill takes you. I was trying to ski some different lines, approaches, trying to find some more time.
“I think there are still some sections I can improve upon. I’m happy with my skiing, but it will get more competitive over the days ahead.”
Cochran-Siegle, 28, who is making his fourth appearance in Bormio, having finished fifth in the Alpine Combined last season, described the tough test that the Stelvio piste presents.
“The turns are big and could be challenging in places, but it also kind of helps you in others,” he said.
“The combination of the jumps and the high speed areas, and with the snow this year, it definitely is a firm surface pretty close to ice, you get a good rattle through the ski for most of the turn.
“It’s a fun track to ski when you can kind of let go of the fear, and just focus on being nice, smooth and confident on it.”
Cochran-Siegle appears poised to potentially become the first U.S. downhiller to win on the vaunted Stelvio track since Bode Miller’s World Cup victory, in December 2007.
The revered course has also been the setting for one of the greatest days in U.S. Ski Team history as Miller and Daron Rahlves sped to downhill gold and silver medals at the 2005 FIS World Championships.
However, the U.S. Ski Team has also suffered through some less than memorable moments and prolonged slumps on the feared Northern Italian Alps course, which has been a regular stop on tour – with a brief hiatus between 2014-2016 – ever since the 1985 FIS World Championships.
Ganong first attacked the Stelvio in 2010 and has attained one of his two World Cup downhill victories in nearby Santa Caterina, in December 2014. The Squaw Valley racer also suffered a season-ending right knee injury on the Stelvio in 2017, subsequently missing the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
“Back in 2010, the mentality on the U.S. team was pretty negative toward Bormio and the Stelvio,” Ganong recounts. “As a young rookie on the team, everyone was grumbling about how it’s so dark, bumpy, bad time of the year and all these negatives, but my whole career, I’ve really liked coming here.
“I enjoy these more demanding, scary, long, technical hills which require tactics, power and finesse,” says Ganong, who scored his first World Cup points and achieved his first top ten on the daunting Italian course.
“Bryce, Travis and I were talking after our training run and with our team that mentality is changing, where we’re embracing the challenge of this hill and that’s where you find success,” Cochran-Siegle noted.
The dramatic “San Pietro” jump sends skiers soaring through the air, with just over 300 meters until the finish, a critical point setting up the dark and technical lower section of the course.
“The only break you have is when you’re in the air off of the San Pietro – it’s the only time your legs have a fraction of a second to relax,” Ganong says, while also noting with a laugh that “one of the hardest parts of the whole race is stopping in the finish.”
“From San Pietro down your legs are tired and you’re just trying to hold on,” says Cochran-Siegle. “Ideally, you envision the line you want to ski, but when your legs are tired, it’s hard to commit to that.”
Bennett adds: “Right before the San Pietro jump, you have a few seconds to just realize how tired your legs are and then you go flying 50 meters and the landing is just a sheet of ice and super bumpy and you’re just trying to rest on flat skis in a tuck somehow.
“The last part is really dark down in there, luckily this year the snow is really good. It’s a tough section, they’re heavy, heavy turns and you can’t see really see the snow at all and you’re going so fast.”
Cochran-Siegle – who increased his lead by numerous tenths between the final split and the finish on both training days – reveals what he believes he needs to accomplish to land on a second consecutive downhill podium and leave Bormio satisfied.
“Just continuing the approach that I have – I have a pretty good confidence of not trying to force things,” he said. “It’s really just letting the skis run and being smooth with my skiing through all the bumps, terrain and big turns.”
While still returning to form considering a right-knee injury in Kitzbuehel last January that ended his season, no one is discounting Italian Dominik Paris, who won consecutive downhill races on the Stelvio last season and four times in total.
“He’s Italian, he’s a heavy metal, hard-core, blue collar ‘get er done boy,’” Bennett says about Paris. “I don’t think he gets intimidated – he just a bad ass downhill skier.”
With persistent snowfall expected in Bormio, with heaviest accumulations forecasted for Monday morning, FIS race directors have flip-flopped the two races, with the super-G moved up to Monday and the Stelvio downhill to follow on Tuesday.
Cause for Cochran family celebration
Ryan Cochran-Siegle’s first career podium in Val Gardena, as he finished runner-up to Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde at last week’s Saslong downhill, comes 50 years after his mother, Barbara, won a silver medal in slalom at the 1970 FIS World Championships at the same Italian resort.
“It is something to share with her – I called her that night and she was so happy about the race, a happy Mom,” said Cochran-Siegle.
Cochran-Siegle received a slew of congratulatory messages, while traveling in Italy, from his large Vermont-based ski racing family back home.
“I had to put my phone away because of all the messages,” he explained. “I was driving to Alta Badia with Tommy Ford to get ready for the next race and Tommy said let the phone stuff be and focus on the race, so that was very helpful.
“But I did a good job getting to all the messages, even if it took me a few days.”
About his recent success, Cochran-Siegle, in his seventh full season on tour, said: “I think as a ski racer, you wait so much time not really knowing if you’ll every reach that high level and then when it actually happens it’s definitely a surreal moment and kind of hard to believe.
“Part of you believes that it is always possible and it definitely was a great day, a special day.”
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