Italian Marta Bassino wins the World Cup opener at Soelden

Sölden (Austria) (AFP) - Marta Bassino beat fellow Italian Federica Brignone by 0.14sec in the World Cup season-opening women’s giant slalom on the Austrian glacier of Soelden on Saturday.

Tenth on the first run Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova sat in the hot-seat looking confident during the second run but was eventually third at 1.13sec after the Italian pair both produced storming second descents.

The 30-year-old defending champion Brignone appeared stunned to take the lead by over a second on the slick surface and punched the air in celebration after timing the fastest run of the meet.

In the rarefied oxygen at 3000m altitude last out of the gate Bassino then pushed herself to the limit to remain ahead of the champion and merely bent double in relief when seeing she had won as a smiling Brignone shuffled over to congratulate her.

The 24-year-old from Piedmont had won just one previous World Cup race at Killington in 2019, but the American resort is off the roster this season.

Three time overall title winner American star Mikaela Shiffrin was absent through injury after missing much of last season.

Last year’s winner here at Soelden the New Zealander Alice Robinson was fourth after the first run but the 18-year-old pushed too hard and was furious with herself after taking a gate wide on a nervy second descent.

This is the first event since last season was brought to an abrupt halt in March because of Covid-19, and the pandemic means there were no fans, reduced media and no physical in-person interviews.

Soelden authorities say the ski-resort earned 4.5 million euros from visiting fans in 2019 but there was no such bonanza here.

There is a men’s giant slalom at the same state of the art, luxury location on Sunday where France’s Alexis Pinturault and the Norwegian duo of reigning champion Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and slalom specialist Henrik Kristoffersen start ther new campaign