Men's GS: Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
January 5, 1999
After a very aggressive second run which propelled Holzer from sixth to first place, he became the first Italian to clinch a GS race since the success of the legendary Alberto Tomba in Bormio in March 1995. He beat by 24/100 of a second Mayer, the winner from last year who clocked the fastest time in the first run and by 31/100 Hans Knauss, who achieved his best performance in that event since the season's start.
Also very impressive was the five-time junior World Champion Benjamin Raich who missed his first World Cup podium by 23/100 after making a major mistake at the middle of the second run. Franceís Joel Chenal also had his best day in a giant slalom in coming 5th ahead of the Norwegian "twins" Lasse Kjus and Kjetil Aamodt.
It was less of a good day for some of the favorites, such as Swizterlandís Michael von Gruenigen, the winner in Alta Badia three weeks ago, who took only 9th. Stephan Eberharter ended at a far 16th place while Hermann Maier had to be content with a distant 20th place - his worse ever in a World Cup giant slalom. Yet he remains confident for the intense Austrian week-end which expects him now at Schladming and Flachau.
"I had nothing to lose and I took a maximum of risks this time," explained Patrick, who became the first Italian to win a World Cup race in Kranjska Gora since the last success of Tomba in the slalom in 1995. "I had a strong second run yet I didnít expect to ski so fast - itís an amazing success for me," added the shy Holzer who came 2nd at Alta Badia two weeks ago after setting the fastest time in the first leg.
"I feel more confident now and this helps me to be more aggressive. Itís great to have become so consistent : in the past I was quite irregular from one race to the other. I have trained harder last summer to improve my physical potential. Now I can dream about winning a medal in Vail in February. I like the course there a lot: I was 4th there in March 1997 during the World Cup finals."
Holzer, who has been competing on the World Cup tour for 10 years, has never finished a medal event in his long career. Yet he never gave up his hopes for better days. Driven by his passion for ski racing, Patrick always fought back after facing injuries or difficult moments, such as his crash in Wengen in January 1993.
"I injured myself at my left knee and I got somehow afraid from the speed," he explained. "Thatís why I focused on GS after winning this Super-G in Germany."
The Austrian who finished behind him was not really astonished by his domination. "I had put him among my list of favorites the other day when I spoke to some journalists," said Mayer. "He has already skied very well at Alta Badia. Obviously he was right to change skis before this season. He puts more pressure on his skis than before and this helps him to be so competitive. It was time for him to finally win a race."
The 1998 winner was not too upset by his defeat on his "home turf" where he has skied since he was young. The 1994 GS World Cup winner, who lives less than 20 minutes from Kranjska Gora on the other side of the border, was not too confident before the race. "I crashed yesterday here during free skiing and I injured myself at the tendon of my left knee," he explained. "I had much pain and I went back home to put some ice on my knee. I took some painkillers this morning, but I couldnít correctly warm up before my start. I was quite concerned yet things went really well.
"I had an almost perfect first run. In the second, I tried my best but I made more mistakes, especially in the wide middle section. But I have to be pleased with this place on the podium. Itís a great way top start this very important week: I will take part in the next five races here, in Austria and in Switzerland. Iím looking forward to competing in Schladming and Flachau where ten of thousands of people will be coming. Itís the most important race for us this season and it would be great to beat Hermann Maier by 1/100 in the GS at Flachau!"
This is also the goal for Hans Knauss who has been waiting for a long time to score another top-3 place in giant slalom. "This is my best result in GS since I came 2nd at Crans-Montana last winter," he said. "I had some strong results in past speed events but I felt some pressure to also do well in giant slalom in order to have a chance to qualify for the World Championships at Vail. On Saturday I will must achieve another great race on my home run in Schladming to enter the Super-G team. Then on Sunday, we will all charge in Flachau where "The Herminator" will ski on his own slopes."
In fact, the defending overall World Cup champion didnít seem to really care so much about his poor result in Slovenia where he came 2nd a year ago. "I couldnít find my best rhythm on this demanding hill after having trained hard on ice during the past days," Maier said. "The snow was not as hard and I was too passive. But this doesnít affect my morale. I know that I can come back any time as I did in Val díIsŤre where I won the Super-G after finishing 36th in the downhill. The next races are much more important to me."
In fact Maier has also kind of a record to defend in the coming days - he is undefeated in Austria since last winter. A year ago, when he celebrated five successes in a row in three specialties, he also won three races in Saalbach and Schladming in front of thousands of spectators. Three years ago, he skied as a forerunner in Flachau and clocked one of the fastest times. The Austrian trainer were so impressed by this unknown athlete that he qualified him for his first international races and the Europa Cup. It was the start of an amazing career...
Mountain Zone European Ski Correspondent