Italian Marta Bassino wins the World Cup opener at Soelden

Sölden (Austria) (AFP) - Marta Bassino beat fellow Italian Federica Brignone by 0.14sec in a “weird” 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 atmosphere is weird, but deep down I’m just happy and very proud,” said Bassino of a race held without spectators due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Today showed that we are going in the right direction, that we have worked well this summer.

“I am very proud to have Federica (Brignone) and Sofia (Goggia) as teammates, both are very competitive, I can learn from them.”

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 Mikaela Shiffrin was absent through a back injury after the American star missed 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 their new campaign.