Evergreen Matt surges back to win Bansko slalom
BANSKO, Bulgaria– Veteran Austrian Mario Matt avenged almost two years in the doldrums to win a slalom in Bansko, eleven years after his first World Cup victory on Sunday.
The 2001 and 2007 world champion, who narrowly missed the podium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen world championships a week ago, was fastest in the morning first run and did not falter in the afternoon to win the first men’s World Cup slalom held in Bulgaria in a combined time of one minute and 50.35 seconds.
“I knew I still had it in me to win races but I was struggling in first legs. For once I skied a good one,” said the skier from Tyrol after his13th World Cup win and his 12th in a slalom.
His last laurels dated back to the World Cup finals two years ago and his first from January 2000 in Kitzbuehel, making him a champion of longevity, only Ingemar Stenmark having won slaloms over a longer stretch.
Matt started the season outside the top 30 after a disastrous campaign last winter and struggled to find the right set-up for his skis after changing equipment in the summer.
Yet two 4th places in Adelboden, when he started with the number 46 bib, and in Garmisch, when he finished just outside the medals but was the best placed Austrian, had boosted his confidence.
“It was not an easy situation to handle in the second leg but I really wanted to save my season with another win. It was not a revenge from Garmisch because I did the very best I could at the worlds,” he said.
Team-mate Reinfried Herbst, who also struggled for most of the winter, completed a great day for his country by taking second place, 0.04 seconds behind.
After the Austrian slalom team’s failure at the worlds, the defending slalom World Cup champion said he had changed his approach.
“I put too much pressure on myself and after the worlds I told myself another season was starting. I just tried to have fun and enjoy the sunshine here and it paid off,” he said.
World champion Jean-Baptiste Grange secured the last place on the podium, 0.48 adrift, to trail slalom World Cup leader Ivica Kostelic by only 36 points in the discipline’s standings.
Kostelic, the runaway overall World Cup leader, straddled a gate in the first leg and failed to finish a slalom for the first time in more than a year.
“It would be a great surprise for me to win the slalom World Cup but who knows? I’ll take each race as it comes and we’ll see whether it’s good enough,” Grange said. “I felt tired today after burning much energy yesterday in the Super-combined event and I needed to push myself at the limits this afternoon to get onto the podium again,” also said Grange, unbeaten in slalom since Kitzbühel.
“It was a very long and tough slalom and it’s no surprise that two gold medal winners and two slalom World Cup champion are on the podium. My goal today was to ski as well as possible despite my fatigue and I think I did a good job. Now I’ll be chasing Ivica for the crystal globe in Kranjska Gora and Lenzerheide. I would really like to do well in Slovenia too. It’s a great ski event.”
“I enjoy being in this position after having accomplished so many great performances at Kitzbühel, Schladming and Garmisch-Partenkirchen during the past weeks. I feel pretty relaxed and with nothing to lose. I know what it takes to capture that cup – I lost one in 2008 in the same situation against Manfred Moelgg. But Ivica is a great skier who has been very impressive last month.”
Next week, the World Cup tour is moving to Slovenia, where a giant slalom and a slalom are scheduled at Kranjska Gora, where the famous Vitranc Cup is taking place for the 50th year this winter.
Contributed by www.francoisthomazeau.fr