Dry slope ‘Rocket’ Ryding makes British history with Kitzbuehel win
Kitzbühel (Austria) (AFP) – Dave Ryding, who honed his early skiing on a dry slope, pulled off a massive shock Saturday when he won Britain’s first World Cup race with victory in the men’s slalom in Kitzbuehel.
Ryding clocked a combined total of 1min 41.26sec, finishing 0.38sec ahead of Norway’s Lucas Braathen, with his teammate and two-time Olympic medallist Henrik Kristoffersen in third (+0.65).
“This place is a special place for me,” said Ryding, whose second-placed finish on the same Ganslern course in 2017 had matched Britain’s previous best alpine skiing result achieved by Konrad Bartelski in the 1981 Val Gardena downhill.
Ryding didn’t start ski race training on snow until he was 21, honing his technique instead on dry slopes in the north of England and content with the family’s annual ski holiday.
“It takes us (Britons) longer, I didn’t grow up on snow, but on a plastic slope that took 11 seconds to ski down,” he recalled.
A hugely popular fixture on the World Cup circuit he was last week named in the British team for the upcoming Beijing Olympics, which will be his fourth.
“I’m 35 now but I never stopped believing, I never stopped trying,” said the slalom specialist who finished 27th at the 2010 Vancouver Games, 17th in Sochi four years later and ninth in Pyeongchang in 2018.
“To bring the first victory for Great Britain in a World Cup in Kitzbuehel, I don’t know if dreams are made better but you know, it’s some place.”
Everybody’s second favourite
A career born on an artificial slope in the town of Pendle, in the northwest of England, has not gone unnoticed by his rivals, who from a young age spent many more hours skiing on real snow on their doorsteps.
For his journey, Ryding has commanded utmost respect and the Lancastrian was mobbed by rivals after he came to terms with the fact he had won on one of the circuit’s most mythical courses.
“It’s really amazing,” he said. “I’m everybody’s second favourite skier! Everyone knows where I come from, my story.
“I guess now my name will go down in history.”
Tearful coach Jai Geyer hailed Ryding, who credits his dry slope background for having gifted him impressive technical skills and mental strength, for having “done so much for British skiing”.
“No one deserves it more than Dave,” Geyer said. “To be the first Briton to win, what an achievement.”
Geyer said the testing snowy, overcast conditions in the Austrian resort had played into Ryding’s hands.
“When it’s difficult it suits Dave, he’s a solid skier,” he said, adding however that Ryding “wasn’t feeling very well today, he had a bit of a cold”.
“We didn’t have quite the same expectations!”
Third-placed Kristoffersen, a disappointing 24th on the first run, held nothing back on the second, clocking a fastest 49.64sec.
It took Braathen, ninth after the first leg, to take control of the leader’s board.
France’s Alexis Pinturault, as many others before him, skied out high up the demanding course, but Ryding made no mistake, laying down an impressive run to take the lead off Braathen and pile the pressure on the remaining handful of racers to come.
Switzerland’s Marc Rochat saw his effort for a first podium go awry, and Italy’s Giuliani Razzoli skied out just metres from the finish line while in the green.
That left the top three to come. First up was Norway’s Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, but the reigning world champion straddled a gate.
Then came Clement Noel, but a big error saw the Frenchman lose more than a second to finish well down the field.
He was followed by first-run leader Alex Vinatzer, but when the big Italian faltered, an overwhelmed Ryding was left clutching his helmet in disbelief, shouting “I can’t believe it!” into the television camera.
Scot Alain Baxter won slalom bronze for Britain in Salt Lake City Games in 2002, only to be stripped of the medal for failing a drugs test.
Ryding can now head to the February 4-20 Olympics in Beijing as a genuine medal contender ready to make more history for Britain.
© 2022 AFP