Strasser wins in Zagreb

The first race of the new calendar year has produced the first German winner of the Zagreb round of the Men's Slalom World Cup as Linus Strasser added a Special Slalom (to give slalom its full name) to his win in the Stockholm City Event in 2017. Strasser won in Zagreb from Manuel Feller leading three Austrians into the top four places. Marco Schwarz took third with Michael Matt rising from 26th after the first run into fourth with the fastest time on the second run. Filip Zubcic took fifth.

Fog and breaking snow had seen the first run go the way of Clement Noel but it was Michael Matt who used his early start on the second run to take the lead and hold it comfortably. They came down, each with a growing advantage over the Austrian on the second run but could not better his combined time.

Matt mastered the second run to perfection. He used the clean course to be smooth, ski a tight line and get comfortable in the leaders enclosure seat.

During this time of the year, racers will have been accustomed to training on hard pistes. This was almost the polar opposite. Skiing the ruts was the talent and skill set that racers needed to be fast. When ruts are in the course, racers have no choice than to ski what is already there. Matt, having gone 5, was able to choose his own line but the later the racer, the more defined the line was.

Those racers that tried to fight the line and ski what they wanted, soon saw the time ebbing away.It was heartbreaking seeing racers of the calibre of the likes of Daniel Yule and and Henrik Kristoffersen dropping down to finish joint tenth.

Another to have gone early was Dave Ryding. Ryding had been disappointed with his first run from the midway point to the bottom and while his top section was better on the second run, there just seemed to be something missing when he went into the start gate from watching on the television. The dynamic fist punch and steely determination in the eyes seemed to be more tense and fearful than itching to get after the course.

The tentativeness showed in the times and while he was tenth fastest at the first split, a relatively flat section, this was as good as it got. Small mistakes came into the skiing and time was evaporating rapidly. The worry in finish was would he be able to stay in the top fifteen on the all important World Cup Start List (WCSL) that determines the bib he will start in the next race in Adelboden.

Loic Meillard had come out one the first run meaning that he would gain points on him towards his WCSL position but with the young Swedish racer Kristoffer Jakobsen firing and just behind him on the list, Ryding started to fear the worst as Jakobsen attacked and looked to be heading for a top ten result. When he crashed out and then JB Grange crashed out, the two racers in touching distance of Ryding on the WCSL ranking, Ryding looked to have survived in the group from 8 to 15.

Ryding knows that he struggles on various sections at various courses and the bottom section at Zagreb is one of these places. Combined with the conditions on race day and it was a perfect storm against him. Time to turn the page and look forward to Adelboden with its long flat before the drop into the finish.

One day does not make Ryding a bad racer and he had been skiing really well over the New Year break we were lead to believe. The races come thick and fast and Ryding will have been buoyed by the result of Laurie Taylor and Billy Major in the Europa Cup race in Val Cenis. Ryding is a past EC race winner and knows racing on the Europa Cup is part of the journey to making it in the World Cup.

Strasser was 8th after the first run and grabbed the lead from Matt and then withstood the pressure of being in the leaders seat. Pinturault dropped way down the list with a mistake at the top, Muffat-Jeandet lost the line in the ruts and was another to jettison time eventually finishing in sixth; Hadalin skied for points and then Schwarz and Feller edged Matt off the podium finisheing just 0.10 and 0.16 behind the German. Mistakes by Sebastian Voss-Solevaag and Clement Noel saw them drop off the podium and leave Strasser stunned to have won.

Ryding leaves Zagreb frustrated but can look on some good sections. He remains in the top 15 just.

While Ryding health with the demons, Linus Strasser was delighted to have won the race despite there being no crowd to cheer the racers on. It was a weird feeling he admitted after the race.

Manuel Feller moves into the red bib after his second podium of the season as the Slalom tour leader ahead of Henrik Kristoffersen and Alexis Pinturault salvaged points after an inside ski error at the top of the second run to go ten points into the lead on the Overall.

January - the races come thick and fast!


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