Young gun Alice Robinson, winner of the opening World Cup of the season in Soelden, was really looking forward to the February race in Maribor, Slovenia, if for no other reason than the fact that she was familiar with the venue and qualified for her first second run on the World Cup there. Every race for her this season, except for Courchevel, had been held on a slope where she had never previously skied. Organizers in Maribor were also excited to secure a February weekend on the World Cup calendar at long last to ensure adequate snow in the low-altitude area better known as a wine region than one for skiing.

The weather gods were against Maribor yet again, so for the second time in three years the women’s race was moved to the traditional men’s venue of Kranjska Gora. Saturday’s giant slalom used a start position just below the men’s reserve start, but otherwise the hill was the same as what the men’s tour will compete on in mid-March. Luckily for Robinson, the New Zealand native who attended Sugar Bowl Academy had some experience there as well since it was the site of her World Cup debut back in 2018. On her second visit, she would vastly improve upon her start from bib 58 when she failed to qualify for the second run and would feel immense confidence like she had been on the slope several times before.

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Alice Robinson on her way to a win in Kranjaska Gora. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Matic Klansek

The hill was slick and the sun was out for the women’s much-heralded return to technical racing after a month-long break. While some pre-race favorites tested the waters on the speed tour, others used the time for rest and concentrated training blocks to prepare for the final month of World Cup competition.

In the top seed among the first seven starters for the first time in her career, Robinson did not take the opportunity for granted and she skied an aggressive opening run where she generated more power and speed out of each turn than any of her fellow competitors. A significant mistake through the delay heading onto the final pitch cost her valuable time, but she was able to slot into second place behind Petra Vlhova of Slovakia by 0.24 seconds and ahead of home crowd favorite Meta Hrovat of Slovenia by 0.53 seconds.

Image shows a rejoicing Alice Robinson (NZL). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

“First run I was really happy with my skiing. I just made a mistake onto the pitch, so I knew the speed was there and I just had to clean it up for the second run,” Robinson said of her opening lap down the Podkoren trail. “I just had a big mistake coming onto the pitch which probably cost me the lead for the first run, but I was still close to Petra so I knew if I just did the same thing hopefully it would be enough to gain that time.”

Her second run was even more powerful but also riskier. Instead of one significant error, she bobbled on multiple turns but always minimized any effect on her speed and continued to charge ahead. At the finish line, she was rewarded with a head-turning, 1.59-second lead over Hrovat and Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener who would ultimately tie for third place in the race.

“It was amazing. The second run was definitely on the limit. I was just kind of pushing as much as I could and definitely had a couple fumbles but I kept the speed going, so yeah, I’m really happy,” Robinson said after the win. “I wasn’t really sure. I was going for it, everything that I could… and sometimes when you’re on the limit you’re not sure whether it’s going to be really fast or it’s not. … When I got to the bottom and I saw the lead, I was super excited.”

Petra Vlhova (SVK) settles for runner-up on the podium. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

With her fan base traveling less than a handful of hours from Slovakia to cheer her on in the finish, Vlhova wanted to perform. She skied crisply and cleanly on the second run but her technical savvy was no match for Robinson’s sheer force. Despite a mostly mistake-free trip down the Podkoren, Vlhova finished in second place at 0.34 seconds from Robinson. She remarked that she was unsure exactly where she lost the time to Robinson but will review the video from the race to learn for the future.

“I like to race in Slovenia because it’s really close to Slovakia and a lot of people come from Slovakia, so it’s good to race here and I enjoy it a lot,” said Vlhova. “The slope is more difficult than in Maribor, but today was perfect because conditions were good – icy and hard – so both runs were perfect and it was good to race.”

The holder of the red leader’s bib, Federica Brignone, could not keep pace for the podium and finished 2.04 seconds back in eighth place after skiing two runs with costly difficulties. With three giant slalom races remaining on the calendar, the Italian holds a 74-point lead over Vlhova in the discipline standings.

Slovenian fans were rewarded with Hrovat’s first podium in two years (and only the second of her career) as well as Tina Robnik’s sixth-place finish. Hrovat grew up racing in the Kranjska Gora Ski Club, and this made her result all the sweeter for her homecoming.

“On the home hill, it’s amazing. I never imagined that I would be on the podium in Kranjska Gora. It’s unbelievable,” said Hrovat. “Today, I don’t really mind sharing the podium [with Wendy]. It was a tight race, so I was a bit lucky. But one time you’re lucky and one time you’re not, so today I was really lucky and I’m happy.”

Image shows the rejoicing of Meta Hrovat (SLO). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

Holdener jointly finished in third to match her career-best result in giant slalom achieved earlier this season in Courchevel. It was her fifth podium of the winter spread across four different disciplines as the former slalom specialist is showing her vast potential in nearly every event right now.

FIS World Cup, giant slalom, ladies. Image shows Petra Vlhova (SVK), Alice Robinson (NZL), Meta Hrovat (SLO) and Wendy Holdener (SUI). Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

“I knew it already after the first run that it was going to be a really tight race. And then when I did the mistake in the flat part, I knew now I have to go like crazy to be in front in the finish. When I saw the green light just by one-hundredth, I was just happy,” reflected Holdener. She admitted that she had to close her eyes for the bottom part of Hrovat’s run because she so badly wanted to finish on the podium. “I just closed my eyes, and then I saw the green light but 0.00 and I was so happy for her and also for me to share this moment with her at home.”

Nina O’Brien of the U.S. Ski Team was the only North American starter in the race. She attacked the upper portion of both the first and second runs with clear intensity. A low line and some slight errors on each passing down the hill caught up with her on the final pitch, but she finished 26th on the day for her fourth scoring result in World Cup giant slalom this season.

Nina O Brien. Photo: GEPA pictures/ Mario Buehner

Mikaela Shiffrin will not compete in Kranjska Gora and has no set plan to return to the World Cup at this time as she mourns the sudden and unexpected passing of her father, Jeff, which occurred earlier this month. She continues to lead the Overall standings by 113 points over Brignone.

The women will race slalom down the Podkoren in Kranjska Gora on Sunday.

Top-10, Women’s GS, Kranjska Gora, Feb. 15, 2020

  • 1. Alice Robinson (NZL): 1:54.32
  • 2. Petra Vlhova (SVK): +0.34
  • 3. Meta Hrovat (SLO): +1.59
  • 3. Wendy Holdener (SUI): +1.59
  • 5. Marta Bassino: ITA: +1.60
  • 6. Tina Robnik (SLO): +1.65
  • 7. Michelle Gisin (SUI): +1.78
  • 8. Federica Brignone (ITA): +2.04
  • 9. Tessa Worley (FRA): +2.18
  • 10. Sara Hector (SWE): +2.19