If there is one race every year that is circled on every slalom skier’s calendar, it’s the Night Race in Schladming, Austria. Although the race has only been held since 1995 — far fewer times than the fabled slaloms in Adelboden, Wengen, and Kitzbuehel — Schladming has been elevated up to the ranks of most prestigious World Cup races to win on the men’s Tour due to the massive attendance of upwards of 50,000 fans and the unbeatable atmosphere of racing under bright floodlights down into the now iconic Planai Stadium.
The 2019 edition of the race was a formidable one as a watered slope combined with consistently cold temperatures in the lead-up to race day made for some incredibly challenging, slick conditions for racers to contend with. Many of whom struggled to find good grip on the icy course.
One racer that looked to have no issues, however, was Austrian living legend, Marcel Hirscher, who crushed the field in both runs to walk away with his 68th career World Cup victory by a massive 1.21 seconds over runner-up finisher, France’s Alexis Pinturault. Switzerland’s Daniel Yule rounded out the podium in third, 1.60 seconds off the pace.
Pre-race eyes were all on Pinturault’s young teammate, Clement Noel, who won back-to-back slaloms in Wengen and Kitzbuehel and looked to be setting himself up for his third slalom victory in a row before a straddle early in his first run ended his night early.
Hirscher pounced on this opportunity and distanced himself from the field in the first run by nearly an entire second, with Yule being his closest competitor at 0.99 seconds back. The Austrian left nothing to chance in the second run, setting the fastest time and further increasing his winning margin. After missing out on the top step of the podium in Wengen and Kitzbuehel, Hirscher was looking to get his edge back in Schladming.
“We were searching in the last three first runs of slalom for a setup that was working from the first gate,” Hirscher explained. “It was ok but it was not the feeling I was used to throughout all the years. I am 12 years now on Tour and with all that experience, you exactly know if things are good or not. It wasn’t bad but it was ok.”
Over the course of the past several weeks, Hirscher and his team have worked tirelessly to find an optimal setup that would allow him to ski the way he wants to ski on the tough, icy slopes of the slalom circuit. Needless to say, Hirscher and his team found that winning formula on Tuesday night.
“I am searching for the perfect turns and I have to thank my whole team these past few weeks for preparing perfect conditions to find a ski setup and the key to success was definitely today’s first run,” he added. “I knew after three turns that the feeling was good.”
The French men are on a roll in slalom so far in 2019 with either Pinturault or Noel landing on the podium in every slalom contested since the New Year. Before this season, Pinturault’s last World Cup slalom podium came all the way back in 2014 when he won in Wengen. Pinturault has now been on a slalom podium three times this winter.
“I am very happy,” he said after the race. “Here is always a special race, it’s the slalom of the year, the cauldron. Everyone comes to see this race. So it’s very nice to come and finish second here. After the first run, I felt that I had a lack of rhythm. I missed a little juice. But finally for the second, it was much better.”
Yule enjoyed his first World Cup victory last month at another iconic night slalom in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy. Yule was also the third-place finisher last season in Schladming. Night races seem to suit the style of the 25-year-old Swiss.
“I just love the night races,” he said. “I think the atmosphere here with the slope, you can feel the energy and the spectators just make it so much fun. I think I’m a bit more of a night person.”
Another impressive performance in Schladming came from 21-year-old Bulgarian, Albert Popov, who finished in an amazing sixth place from bib 46. Popov also finished in ninth last weekend in Kitzbuehel. Keep an eye out for this rising Eastern European star.
The lone American starter on Tuesday night, Hig Roberts, did not qualify for a second run.
The men now head to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany for downhill and giant slalom races Jan. 31-Feb. 3
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
- Daniel Yule (SUI)- Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Ramon Zenhaeusern (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Marco Schwarz (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Albert Popov (BUL)- Head/Head/Head
- Marc Digruber (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Felix Neureuther (GER)- Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Dave Ryding (GBR)- Dynastar/Lange/Look
- Christian Hirschbuehl (AUT)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
For complete FIS results, please click here.