The fog was nice enough to stay away for the final regular season men’s World Cup slalom of the season in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, on Sunday, but the same wet, soft snow and flat light as Saturday was on tap as Austria’s Michael Matt took the first World Cup victory of his career with a combined time of 1:48.26 seconds. Italy’s Stefano Gross hung on for a second-place finish, 0.30 seconds back while Germany’s Felix Neureuther claimed his fifth podium of the season in third, 0.46 seconds off of Matt’s pace.
Gross set the pace in the first run, using extremely clean and early skiing to distance himself from the rest of the field by over a second. Matt sat 1.15 seconds back in second place and Neureuther found himself 1.62 seconds adrift in fifth heading into the second run. It was quite the spread in the first run as a whole due to the soft conditions as a whopping 4.39 seconds separated Gross from 30th-place finisher Stefan Hadalin of Slovenia.
Second run action saw a huge shake-up in the results as early racers took advantage of a clean course and deteriorating conditions to make massive jumps in the standings. Italy’s Patrick Thaler had the fastest second run time and charged from 28th to sixth as several other racers from outside the top 20 made solid jumps into the top 15. Neureuther looked to have blown the doors off the race by coming down with a 0.78 second advantage and held the lead until Matt kicked out of the gate. Skiing within himself and maintaining a light touch on his edges, Matt managed to match Neureuther and slide into the lead by a comfortable margin. Gross, despite a valiant second run effort, was not able to hang on to his first run advantage and found himself in second, but was none the less content to make it back to the podium.
Marcel Hirscher’s fourth place finish combined with Henrik Kristoffersen failing to make the second run after hiking in his first run means that the Austrian has now locked up the slalom title as he leads the standing by 110 points with only the slalom at Finals to go.
Matt looked deceptively fast in both runs as his clean, calm skiing was the ticket to victory on Sunday. Matt’s older brother, Mario, won the slalom in Kranjska Gora twice during his illustrious career, and the younger Matt certainly hopes that Sunday’s result is an indication of what is to come.
“It’s amazing, it’s unbelievable when you stand out there in the finish area,” Matt said of the winner’s presentation. “When you’re second after the first run and then the green light is in the second run when you’re in the finish, it’s amazing. I watched (the other racers) at the World Championships in St. Moritz and that wasn’t good, so I didn’t watch today. I didn’t watch anyone, I just focused on me and my skiing and I’m really happy. I’ve had a good experience in European Cup here on this hill and last year as well. I just like the hill and love to ski here.”
Gross has struggled with a bad back for much of the season and definitely needed the confidence boots of a podium heading into the final slalom of the season in Aspen.
“It feels extremely good because I’ve had a really difficult season,” Gross admitted. “Unfortunately, I had a bad back problem in January and then the best race I could have done was when I was second after the first run in Kitzbuehel and in the second run, I straddled a gate right at the top. That could have probably totally changed my season if something had gone well at that point, but it’s been a terrible season for me and it really feels very good to be back on the podium. I had a great first run, but it was also due to my start number as I had number two. Unfortunately in the second run, from the beginning, I had a few problems. It was bumpy, it was really hard to hold the line, so it was not as good, but I was well prepared for the conditions with training in salty, spring snow.”
Sunday was Neureuther’s fifth career podium at Kranjska Gora and the German also looks to put some early season struggles behind him and finish the season strong.
“It feels very good,” he said. “I don’t know how may times I’ve been on the podium here, but it’s a very, very special hill, technical, tough and the conditions are always tough too, so I am very happy to be on the podium again. I had some problems at the beginning of the season until just right before the World Championships; I was struggling with my setup so I couldn’t ski as I wanted but now, since the World Championships, it feels really good again.”
It was a tough day for the American contingent as David Chodounsky was the lone finisher in 19th place. Despite a strong first run in the ruts that saw him sitting in 11th place, Chodounsky fell victim to the deteriorating second run and slid back to 19th, which unfortunately did not score him enough points to qualify for World Cup Finals in Aspen. Michael Ankeny did not finish his first run and the remaining U.S. skiers — Mark Engel, Robby Kelley, AJ Ginnis, and Hig Roberts — did not qualify for the second run.
The top-25 men in each discipline now pack their bags and head to World Cup Finals in Aspen, Colorado, March 15-19.
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- Michael Matt (AUT) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Stefano Gross (ITA) – Voelkl/Tecnica/Marker
- Felix Neureuther (GER) – Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Andre Myhrer (SWE) – Head/Head/Head
- Patrick Thaler (ITA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Manfred Moelgg (ITA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Julien Lizeroux (FRA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Victor Muffat-Jeandet (FRA) – Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Alexander Khoroshilov (RUS) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points||WC Points|
|27||19||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR||57.25||53.66||1:50.91||+2.65||17.62||4.00|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|78||54106||BREITFUSS KAMMERLANDER Simon||1992||BOL|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|72||30149||SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier||1980||ARG|