After skiing into the lead in the first race of the season in Sölden at an altitude of 2670m in the finish area, Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI) was so exhausted that she didn’t even have enough energy left to find her way to the leader’s chair.
Instead, the Swiss star simply sat on the snow and watched the rest of Saturday’s giant slalom race in Sölden from the ground before summoning the strength to pump her first in delight when her victory was confirmed three racers later.
“It’s amazing to win here,” said Gut-Behrami, who also triumphed on the Rettenbach glacier in 2013 and 2016 and joined Tina Maze (SLO) as the only women to win three times in Sölden on the resort’s 30th anniversary as a World Cup host.
Gut-Behrami left nothing on the mountain in an aggressive second-run charge that saw her move up from fourth position after the first run and sneak home by 0.02 seconds over Federica Brignone (ITA), with Petra Vlhova (SVK, +0.14s) claiming third.
As the first skier out of the gate in the first run, Gut-Behrami made an error at the bottom of the steep pitch and lost time on the subsequent flats to the skiers who came after her.
“Yesterday when I drew number 1, I was really happy, but in the morning I was a little bit nervous,” she admitted. “It was the first time to me to start the season as the first one starting. And I paid for that a little bit in the first run.”
On the top section of the second run, Gut-Behrami skied with an aggressiveness that no one else could match, allowing her to carry high speeds all the way down the steep pitch and onto the flat section approaching the finish area.
“The second run, I felt again that everything was normal and I could do what I wanted,” Gut-Behrami said about overcoming her earlier nerves.
That second-run charge gave her a lead of 1.19 seconds and she watched as Vlhova, Sara Hector (SWE, fourth) and finally Brignone were unable to dislodge her despite their first-run advantage.
Italian veteran Brignone had earlier skied a spectacular first run to lead the field by 0.50 seconds and Gut-Behrami by 0.73 seconds, but couldn’t match that performance in the second run and lost time all the way down the mountain.
“For sure it burns because of the two-hundredths, but that’s skiing, right?” said Brignone, who admitted that the occasion got the better of her.
“The second run I was really stressed,” she said. “I’m not happy with myself because I didn’t do the best I could do. In the first run I could ski really relaxed and in the second run I wasn’t — you don’t win races like this.”
Vlhova, hoping to return to top form after a 2022/23 season that was below her usual standards, was third in both runs in a solid start to her campaign.
“It’s good to start with a podium in the first race of the season, but of course I could be a little bit higher on the podium,” she said.
Defending giant slalom and overall champion Mikaela Shiffrin (USA), bidding to win her sixth consecutive World Cup giant slalom race, was not at her best in either run and finished sixth.
“A little messy in some spots, but I liked my mentality going into the second run better,” Shiffrin said. “A little bit more trying for race mode, I was just not able to execute perfectly.”
That slight lack of execution could be applied to all skiers on Saturday — even Gut-Behrami, who admitted to making “many mistakes on both runs”.
As for plonking herself down on the snow in the finish area after her second run, it wasn’t a new superstition or good-luck charm for the Swiss veteran, but simply the result of an exhausting race.
“I needed to recover, I was just tired,” Gut-Behrami said when asked why she chose that unusual seat. “I was just trying to recover and to breathe.”
Now she will breathe a little easier with her 38th World Cup victory under her belt.