VAL GARDENA/GRÖDEN DELIVERS A SKIING SPECTACLE IN XXL FORMAT
As a downhill race that had been canceled in Zermatt-Cervinia was made up for on the Saslong, ski fans could look forward to one more race than usual.
After the World Cup stages in Zermatt-Cervinia and Beaver Creek had to be canceled due to the weather, the season opener for the world's best speed racers was to take place in Val Gardena/Gröden this year. Given the race week on the Saslong, the ski circuit was hoping for good weather so that the first competitions in the fast disciplines could finally be held after a long wait. Val Gardena/Gröden did not disappoint, and with three races prepared down to the smallest detail, ensured three sensational days of skiing.
It all started in Val Gardena/Gröden on Tuesday when the first training session for the two downhill races was on the program. The American Jared Goldberg came out on top in perfect conditions. In his third training success on the Saslong, the 32-year-old relegated top favorite and defending champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Switzerland's Stefan Rogentin to second and third place, respectively.
The second training run on Wednesday was canceled due to overnight snowfall. Given the mammoth program ahead, the organizing committee, in consultation with the race jury, decided to cancel the second training run and take it easy on the course. As it turned out afterward, the organizers made the only right decision.
Bryce Bennett steals the show with a surprise victory.
The first of three races on the Saslong ended with a surprise: last year's much-maligned Bryce Bennett outdid the entire competition on a shortened course with bib number 34 and skied sensationally to his second victory in the World Cup. Behind the American, Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Switzerland's Marco Odermatt completed the top three.
The Italian speed aces also produced decent results in the sprint downhill. Although no "Azzurro" managed an absolute top result, five racers - Dominik Paris (11th), Christof Innerhofer and Mattia Casse (tied in 12th place), Florian Schieder (15th), and Guglielmo Bosca (19th) - finished in the top 20.
Austrian double victory in the super-G.
Friday's super-G was not for the faint of heart: Austria's Vincent Kriechmayr took first place two hundredths ahead of his teammate Daniel Hemetsberger in a thrilling race with extremely close time gaps. All-rounder Marco Odermatt finished third, as he did in the downhill on Thursday - at the finish, he was only three hundredths behind the day's winner Kriechmayr.
With Mattia Casse and Guglielmo Bosca, two Italian athletes also impressed in the super-G. Casse finished eighth, while Bosca only missed out on the best result of his World Cup career in tenth place. South Tyrol's speed specialists, on the other hand, experienced a pitch-black day: Florian Schieder finished in 37th place, tying with Kilde, veteran Christof Innerhofer was 50th, and Dominik Paris (55th) had no chance anyway as a "test pilot" with the low starting number 2.
Paris ensures a festive day for South Tyrol.
One day after his disappointing performance in the super-G, Dominik Paris struck back impressively in the downhill classic: the powerhouse from South Tyrol raced to a sensational victory with a spirited performance and turned the finish stadium at the foot of the Sassolungo/Langkofel into an absolute madhouse. With his first place, Paris also ended a 15-year drought in Val Gardena/Gröden: Werner Heel celebrated his last victory on the Saslong in December 2008. Back then, the speed specialist, also from South Tyrol, was unbeatable in the super-G.
Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (Norway) and Bryce Bennett (USA) came second and third in the downhill on Saturday. There were also points for the two South Tyroleans Florian Schieder and Christof Innerhofer: Schieder finished in 17th place, and Innerhofer finished the race in 21st place one day before his 39th birthday.
Bennett grabs the special prize.
With victory in the sprint downhill, 14th place in the super-G, and third place in the downhill classic, Bryce Bennett was the most successful racer at the 56th Saslong Classic. As the athlete with the most points, the American won the DOLOMITES Val Gardena Südtirol Ski Trophy special prize for the second time since 2021. As the winner of the special trophy, Bennett can look forward to a 3D wooden bust true to size, extra prize money of 5,000 euros, a short vacation stay in Val Gardena/Gröden, and an ascent of the Sassolungo/Langkofel accompanied by a local mountain guide.
"We are ready for a world championship."
Following the successful staging of the Val Gardena/Gröden World Cup week in XXL format, the President of the Saslong Classic Club, Rainer Senoner, took stock with satisfaction. "This year, we organized one more competition than usual. We managed this very well, thanks to the strong support of the entire team. The weather has been great over the last few days, and the spectators, who have come to Val Gardena/Gröden in large numbers, have given the race week a more than worthy setting," says Senoner, who has long since turned his attention to the future:
"I hope that this year's race week was another pointer in the right direction and that we were able to prove that we are ready for a world championship. I am in good spirits and confident we will host a World Championship."
Whether the 2029 Alpine World Ski Championships will be held in Val Gardena/Gröden will be decided on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at the FIS Congress in Reykjavik. In addition to Val Gardena/Gröden, Soldeu (Andorra) and Narvik (Norway) are also bidding for the 2029 Alpine World Championships.
Photo credit: Saslong Classic Club / Harald Wisthaler