LIENZ, AUSTRIA (Dec. 28, 2011) – Canada’s Marie-Michèle Gagnon and Marie-Pier Préfontaine are determined to bounce back from the disappointment of narrowly missing out on qualifying for the second run in the women’s giant slalom in Lienz, Austria, on Wednesday.
Gagnon of Lac-Etchemin, Que., and Préfontaine, of Saint Sauveur, Que., finished 32nd and 34th, respectively – just out of the top 30 qualification spots – in what was a tight race in excellent snow conditions.
Gagnon hasn’t spent much time training for giant slalom this year, while Préfontaine has been battling a leg injury and wasn’t able to ski with the same power and technique that has brought her four Nor-Am Cup wins in the past few weeks.
“I tried to work through the pain but it ended up not being good enough for a second run,” said Préfontaine, who was only 0.27 seconds back of the 30th-place finisher. “I hurt my leg in the Flachau (Austria) slalom last week. It could not have been worse timing for me. I strained a tendon or muscle and my shin was so sore I couldn’t finish any training runs.”
The women’s team spent the holiday season in Europe but Préfontaine will now return to Canada ahead of the second half of the 2011-12 World Cup season.
“I had a really hard time skiing today but now I’m going home so I’ll be able to rest and heal before I come back to Europe. I'm not worried. I’ll be back soon and healthy for the next giant slalom,” said Préfontaine of the event in Maribor, Slovenia, on Jan. 21.
Madison Irwin, of Toronto, Ont., was 56th after the first run in what was only her third start on the World Cup tour.
“She fell in training and didn’t start with a lot of confidence,” said Hugues Ansermoz, head coach of Canada’s women’s team. “She’s here to learn.”
Gagnon has focused on slalom this year – while also racing some super-G and giant slalom events. She plans to skip the next super-G World Cup race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Jan. 15, and hopes to spend more time training for giant slalom in the second half of the season, said Ansermoz.
“She doesn’t have the confidence in giant slalom,” said Ansermoz of Gagnon, who was 0.16 seconds back of 30th place. “The skiing was not bad but today was a very easy (course) and everybody was very tight. You had to really attack because the snow was incredible.”
Gagnon, who was ninth in the slalom in Flachau, Austria, on Dec. 20., leads a strong Canadian women’s team into Thursday’s slalom race in Lienz. Erin Mielzynski, of Guelph, Ont., Anna Goodman, of Pointe Claire, Que., and Irwin are also set to fly the flag for Canada.
“It’s a disappointing day but we’re not established at the top in giant slalom,” Ansermoz said. “We will try to concentrate on slalom tomorrow where we have a lot more weapons.”
Austria’s own Anna Fenninger took the win Wednesday with two-run combined time of two minutes, 16.08 seconds. It was her first podium in giant slalom. Italy’s Frederica Brignone was second (2:16.28) and Tessa Worley, of France, was third (2:16.47). Due to the cancellation of the race in Courchevel, France, this was only the third ladies’ giant slalom event of the season.
DEC. 28, 2011 – LIENZ, AUT – FIS AUDI WORLD CUP - LADIES’ GIANT SLALOM
Whistler, B.C.’s Dixon, who was second-fastest in training Wednesday but missed a gate, suffered a concussion in last year’s Bormio downhill and didn’t return to competitive skiing until October 2011.
Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., had a nasty crash in training for last year’s race and suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament as well as a concussion. Like Dixon, he was ruled out of the rest of the 2010-11 season.
“It was a lot better than yesterday,” said Hélie, who tied for 47th in the second training run. “I got the monkey off my back Tuesday. I was OK in inspection Tuesday, then in the hour before the start I started to feel the stress from last year. I took it easy where I crashed at the top.
“Today I skied a little better and I felt pretty good. Tomorrow I’m just going to try to ski like I can. I don’t expect a miracle but I need to step up my game.”
World downhill champion Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 14th-fastest Wednesday, while Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., was 52nd. Jan Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., was 62nd after being flagged and forced to stop part-way through his run. Although his official finishing time was several minutes off the pace, Hudec’s splits were very competitive and he’s looking good for Thursday’s race.
WATCH THE ACTION ON TV: Thursday’s men’s downhill is due to be shown live on CBCSports.ca and CBC Bold at 5:40 a.m. ET Thursday. The race will also be broadcast on CBC on Saturday, Dec. 31, at 4 p.m. ET and Sunday, Jan. 1, at 1 a.m. local time.
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