Bassino leads Brignone for Italian 1-2 in season-opening GS

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Clenching her first, Marta Bassino screamed for joy and shouted “Si!” after crossing the finish line.

Almost a year after her first career win, she led Federica Brignone for an Italian 1-2 finish in the season-opening women’s World Cup giant slalom Saturday.

Bassino held on to her first-run lead to beat her teammate and defending overall World Cup champion by 0.14 seconds.

“I am really proud of today and really happy about this start of the season. It’s really perfect,” Bassino said.

The result was a copy of her maiden triumph in the GS in Killington, Vermont, last season, when she also defeated Brignone.

“We are a perfect couple,” Bassino said. “We have a great team. We worked very well this summer and I think this is the result.”

Petra Vlhova posted the fastest second-run time and the Slovakian racer finished third, 1.13 off the lead.

Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin was 1.30 behind in fourth, while last year’s winner Alice Robinson had a costly mistake in her second run before finishing 12th.

Three-time overall champion Mikaela Shiffrin sat out the race. The American, who won here in 2014, tweaked her back in training two weeks ago and opted to rest.

Usually, many Italian fans travel to the Tyrolean Alps to visit the season opener, but no spectators were allowed this time as one of the precautionary health and safety measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It feels really weird,” Brignone said. “For me, Soelden is a lot of noise, a lot of people, crowd(ed), everyone is excited. But this is the compromise to begin the season and I think that is OK.”

Brignone scooped the overall title last season, dethroning Shiffrin who was taking a break following the death of her father just before the remainder of the season was canceled.

The first overall World Cup champion from Italy, Brignone said she felt under pressure to cement her status in the new season.

“I love skiing but the last weeks I was not skiing like I wanted, I was getting nervous,” Brignone said. “But now I feel almost relaxed. For me, it’s fantastic. It’s a new season and I’m here.”

In the first run, Bassino dealt best with flat light on the partly foggy Rettenbach glacier to build a substantial lead of 0.58 seconds over Brignone.

Skies cleared for the second run, and although Bassino lost much of her advantage over Brignone, her win was never really in danger.

“The first run was more easy,” said Bassino, adding that the second “was hard but I tried to push hard from the start gate to the finish line. I am really happy.”

Even without Shiffrin, the U.S. ski team scored a remarkable result with two racers in the top 15.

Nina O’Brien placed 15th and teammate Paula Moltzan, who started 62nd in only her second GS, was ranked 17th after the opening run before finishing a career-best 10th.

“I’m a bit shocked. I knew I was skiing well through training, I had a lot of people telling me it was there,” said Moltzan, adding it was “kind of mind-boggling” to put it down in the race.

“I am just really happy with how I skied and I am really happy that both Nina and I got into the top 15 today,” Moltzan said. “It’s really a strong statement for the U.S. to come into our first race this strong.”

Moltzan said the team got a lot of support from Shiffrin in the build-up to the race.

“I know it was a hard decision for her not to race but she’s been really helpful. She sat down with us and talked about the race hill,” Moltzan said. “I have been texting her all week and she was super supportive.”

A men’s GS on the same hill is scheduled for Sunday.

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