Austria’s Brem wins first-ever WCup in Aspen
The Aspen Times
Eva-Maria Brem solved the puzzle of Aspen Mountain on Saturday.
Brem led an Austrian attack in the women’s World Cup giant slalom, the sun-splashed kickoff race of the 2014 Aspen Winternational.
Cheered on by a standing-room only crowd in the finish venue near the base of Lift 1A, Brem crossed the line in the afternoon’s second run and fell to the snow in shock — her first World Cup victory in the eight seasons she’s been racing World Cup.
Austrian teammate Kathrin Zettel, who has won more World Cup medals in Aspen than any other skier, finished second, .59 of a second behind Brem’s two-run winning time of 2:05.97.
Italy’s Federica Brignone returned to a World Cup podium for the first time in two years, finishing third, 1.36 behind the winner.
Brem, 26, built a huge first-run advantage on the tricky and varied terrain on the course that started with a steep descent of Spring Pitch on Aspen Mountain.
The course dropped onto Summer Road for the angular transition to Strawpile. That intermediate stretch on Summer Road became the Bermuda Triangle for the GS skiers, who struggled to maintain their line and their speed onto the finishing section of Strawpile.
A first-run slip on Summer Road proved costly form Mikaela Shiffrin of Eagle-Vail. The Olympic gold medalist, who tied for a win with Anna Fenninger in the opening World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, scrambled back to finish sixth Saturday.
Slovenian Tina Maze, a former winner in Aspen, was fourth with Austrian Michaela Kirchgasser fifth.
Elisabeth Goergl finished eighth, giving Austria four finishers in the top eight in Saturday’s giant slalom.
Fenninger, who has won five consecutive giant slaloms, tied for 12th.
“I tried to fully attack,” Brem said of her masterful two-run performance Saturday. “I knew there were some tricky gates, but I just tried to fully attack … with no mistakes.”
Her silky smooth first run stunned the crowd as well as the rest of the field, giving her a huge 1.14-second lead over Brignoni, who has the second-fastest opening run.
She was flawless through the Summer Road gauntlet.
“The essential feeling I had (on the first run) was fun,” Brem said in impeccable English at the post-race press conference. “The second run … I wasn’t nervous.”
She said it reminded her of a lower-level FIS race when she was alone at the top, the only skier still to race.
“I had a few mistakes. It was not as smooth as the first run. But in the end it was my first World Cup victory,” she said. “I’m so happy and so proud.”
She, like Zettel, had to come back from injury to score her first World Cup win. She even considered leaving the sport.
“The real turnaround was my podium last year in Are, Sweden,” Brem said. She won bronze but still did not make the Austrian team for the Sochi Winter Olympics.
But the Are finish provided the motivation to attack this season.
She said she has a special appreciation for her first World Cup victory.
“I’m trying to enjoy the situation, because I know the other side,” Brem said.
Teammate Zettel, who earned her record 10th World Cup medal in Aspen, said she was excited about her second-place finish and Brem’s victory.
“The first run was not that good,” the 28-year-old Zettel said. “I was not happy about my skiing.”
The Austrian excelled in the second run, avoiding the Summer Road problems that tormented many in the field..
She attributed her continuing success in Aspen to the terrain changes on the Aspen Mountain course.
“I like different courses. Aspen is very difficult. It’s very technical,” Zettel said. “That’s what I like.”
She said Brem has been skiing well, as evidenced by her first-run domination.
“In the first run, she nailed us,” Zettel said. “I’m happy for her.”
The diminutive Brem, 5-foot-3, now has 14 World Cup top 10 finishes, including her win in Aspen.
“I’m really happy today. Two years without a podium, it’s good to be back,” said Brignone, the Italian who finished third.
She said she tried to take the tenseness out of her ski racing as she also rebounded from injury.
“I had a good summer,” said Brignone, whose mother was a World Cup racer. “I like to have fun. I like to enjoy my friends. I like to take vacations.”
She said she had to battle to survive in the tough second run Saturday after the sun had dropped behind Shadow Mountain, replacing the earlier sunshine with increasingly diminishing light.
“I was really fighting that run because it was so bumpy,” said Brignone, 24.
Shiffrin, the rising star of the U.S. Ski Team and two-time World Cup overall slalom champion, said the first-run mistake on Summer Road put her in a big deficit.
“I tried to keep it clean in the second run,” Shiffrin said, adding that attacking so hard that you make a mistake can be a breakthrough. “I was mostly just trying to not screw up on that spot where everyone was screwing up.”
A smooth second run moved Shiffrin up from 10th to eighth.
She’ll race Sunday in the women’s World Cup slalom on Aspen Mountain. The first run is set for 10 a.m. with the second run at 1 p.m.
“It’s so cool to race here. It’s an awesome atmosphere,” Shiffrin said. “I could hear (the fans cheering) up at the start. It got me psyched up for both runs.”
The other Americans in the GS field struggled Saturday.
Veteran Julia Mancuso went down and slid off the course after a mishap on Summer Road in the first run.
Megan McJames of the U.S. was 48th in the first run and did not qualify in the top 30 for the second rum.
Anna Marno of Steamboat Springs, with one of the largest cheering sections, also did not qualify for the second run of GS.
Aspen’s Bobby Moyer, working his way toward the U.S. Ski Team, was one of the forerunners for Saturday’s World Cup giant slalom on his home mountain.
“Going onto Summer Road is really fast and quick. There’s not a lot of time there,” Moyer, 20, said of the first run, with the gates set by an Austrian coach. “There’s a little bump where you saw Mikaela (Shiffrin) and Anna (Fenninger) make that mistake.”
Moyer said the turns down Strawpile were rhythmic and smooth.
There were 46 gates in all and 43 turning games in the first run.
The second course, set by the Italian coach, had 44 turning games.
“The second set was pretty similar to the first,” Moyer said. “It’s a little straighter onto (Summer Road). The road is still tricky, and the bump is still there on that left-footed turn.”
Concentration is paramount from start to finish said Moyer, the son of Roger and Mary Moyer of Aspen.
“You have to keep working to the finish. It’s a leg-burner,” Moyer said.