Germany's Maria Riesch edged out arch-rival and friend Lindsey Vonn to win the season's opening women's World Cup slalom in Levi, Finland, on Saturday. The reigning World Champion, who set the fastest time in the first leg, beat her colleague by 8/100 of a second to celebrate her 12th World Cup victory, her 6th in slalom.
Another HEAD champion, Susanne Riesch, Maria’s younger sister, came in 4th – her best finish ever on the World Cup tour – missing the podium by only 17/100 of a second. Former slalom World Champion Sarka Zahrobska was 8th ahead of another German, Fanny Chmelar.
A perfect day for Maria Riesch
Riesch, who enjoyed her very first slalom win on the same ‘Levi Black’ slope back in March 2004, was more than elate after her latest success. “It was for sure a perfect day even it wasn’t easy,” she said at the post-race press conference. “There were huge expectations after my great last season and I was quite nervous because of that. Also my performance wasn’t perfect in the last few weeks so I didn’t feel really self-confident”, the beaming winner added.
“Whatever people might think, this is kind of a surprise for me because slalom is the discipline in which I felt the less comfortable in training in the past weeks,” also said the 25-year-old skier from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, who was 3rd here a year ago.
“It's true I feel at home here after three podiums and it allowed me to give my all in both runs. My sister was much faster than me in recent tests, but fortunately I remained confident and pushed hard today from the first to the last gates. It was of course very exciting to fight once more for victory against Lindsey, it gave me a special quick as I know I have to be all the time fully determined to have a chance to beat her. In fact, she was only a few hundredths behind me at the intermediate time this afternoon – it was once more very close.”
“It’s great to start the season so well, it’s definitely a strong boost for my moral after this long period of training which had its ups-and-downs too. We went to New Zealand last summer, the conditions were not always good and I had to cover part of the travel expenses of my service rep. But now everything is fine and I’m looking forward for another exciting winter. I have lots of goals of course, such as being more consistent again in the speed events and improve my giant slalom technique. I don’t think I have a real chance to reach my first podium in that specialty this winter, yet I’ll try as hard as possible to.”
Maria was also very pleased to see her younger sister showing part of her potential after struggling in past seasons. “She was clearly the fastest of us in training, I was ready to bet on her for this race,” the triple specialty World Cup champion commented. “It would have been great to see her on the podium next to me – of course Tanja Poutiainen fully deserves her 3rd place but we’ll keep on working on this in the coming slalom races.”
One of the best speed skiers until two years ago, Maria Riesch turned into an almost unbeatable slalom specialist last winter, winning four races in a row and gold at the Val d’Isère Worlds. “It would be great to put everything together now, finding back my momentum in the speed events and keeping-on ski so well in slalom,” she also said with a grin. “It’s not easy to be an all-rounder, but I’ll do my best. For the moment I plan to enter each single competition in the coming months.”
Lindsey fought hard too
Lindsey Vonn was the first to congratulate Maria for her win at the finish area. “She achieved two great runs, I can only compliment her for her outstanding performance today,” said the American afterwards. “I was pretty pleased with my first run but I made a few more mistakes at the end of the second leg,” Vonn added. “But I’m more than happy. My goal was a top-5 finish today and I’m very excited to have been to be able to fight for victory again today. I like the slope a lot here, it’s always well prepared and the crowd is great too.”
“My last training camp at Vail on that private course was crucial for today’s good result. The slope was great, really hard and it also helped me to get the best tuning on my equipment. There are so many good skis at HEAD that I needed to test them all intensively. I like to use a brand also used by men as I skied very aggressively. I finally decided this morning to pick up the right pair for today – it was definitely a good choice.”
“Things have been going well for me in past months. I trained intensively and also spent some time doing appearances here and there. It was fun and I met lots of people. It didn’t prevent me to work out as hard as usual with my staff and I feel ready for another great season.”
“My goals are obviously to find my rhythm from last winter and achieve for strong performances in all events. I hope to be able to fight for a third consecutive Overall World Cup title, which will certainly not be easy and then be ready to give my best at the Olympics.”
“I’m now focusing on the next races scheduled in Colorado on the slopes of Aspen. The terrain there is very demanding and the altitude doesn’t make things easier. I’m happy to be racing again in front on my fans even though the pressure will certainly be intense. It’s part of the game.”
The next women competitions are scheduled in two weeks from now at Aspen, Colorado, where a giant slalom and a slalom are taking place.