Big day for the Italians in Alta Badia
By Brian Pinelli
On a frigid day under bright sunny skies where temperatures at the finish dipped to minus 18 centigrade, the Italian racers shined. Led by Massimiliano Blardone, who blazed to his first World Cup victory in two seasons, the home nation placed four skiers among the top six.
Blardone's two-run total of 2:35.76 on the steep, turny and icy Gran Risa piste, was 0.43 seconds faster than his countryman, Davide Simoncelli.
"It was a great achievement for me - I was really focused on this race and getting a great result," said Blardone after the race. "I started the season well with a fourth place in Soelden and then I had the negative moments in America. That gave me motivation to fight back and Val d'Isère (last weekend) was a good race, good placing for me. It's a great feeling to be here on the top having won."
The vociferous Italian crowd expressed their satisfaction early in the day, as Blardone, Simoncelli and teammate Manfred Moelgg stood 1-2-3 after the morning's first run. Italian ski racing nostalgics may have been hoping for a repeat of 1986, when Richard Pramotton, Alberto Tomba and Oswald Totsch swept the top three places in Alta Badia.
Austria's Benjamin Raich and France's Cyprien Richard skied quick enough in the afternoon session preventing an Italian sweep and bumping Moelgg down to fifth. Italy's Alexander Ploner, 31, moved up a place from seventh becoming the fourth Italian to crack the top six.
"It was a very exciting race for us Italians," said Simoncelli. "When you see the conditions so well prepared and it's a steep and charging course, its just perfect for my style. You are just happy to attack - it gives you extra confidence and momentum. It's just a great place for us."
Interestingly, Blardone and Simoncelli, both age 30, also finished first and second in Alta Badia back in December of 2005. Simoncelli has been second here on two other occasions and also won in 2003. For Blardone, Sunday's triumph was his fifth career World Cup victory.
"Blardone was perfect today," said Simoncelli. "I tried to push hard every gate but there was no chance."
The Italian giant slalom racers seem to be gaining momentum at just the right time with the Vancouver Olympics looming about two months away. Last weekend in Val d'Isère, Blardone finished second and Moelgg was fourth.
"Last year the GS for Italy was not so fast," continued Simoncelli. "The last two races we are near the top. The results are because of a good job (training) this summer and also in this last period."
Simoncelli also commended the Italian fans for their support.
"I live only two hours from here and it's really special for us," said Simoncelli, who resides in Rovereto, Italy. "Here there is a great atmosphere and feeling because so many family and friends are coming. They come not to support you skiing down, but to see you win. So there is great excitement and we have a responsibility to them."
The victory for Blardone may have been especially satisfying, considering that the veteran Italian skier re-organized his career this past summer, changing to Salomon equipment and also hiring his own private team of coaches and technicians.
"I can tell you when I finished the race, there was a moment of silence with the crowd," said Blardone. "I started to look around and was afraid that I may have lost the podium again, but then they started to yell and we're happy for me. It was a very exciting moment."
Blardone's two victories on the Gran Risa in Alta Badia are just two shy of his countryman, Alberto Tomba, who won at the classic venue four times, in 1987, '90, '91 and '94.
When asked if he thought he could match Tomba's total, the 30-year-old replied, "I don't know about this, but I can tell you it is very difficult to win this race again. I've been trying very hard for a long time. I'll have to let you know next time."
Sunday's victory, was also the 19th career podium in giant slalom for Blardone. The Italian also moved up to second in the World Cup giant slalom standings earning 100 points and giving him a total of 230. Austria's Raich still leads with 235. Blardone was fourth last year in the GS standings and has never won an event title.
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