Madonna Dicampgilio, Italy, Dec. 13--After losing a pair of races over the weekend in France, the men's World Cup tour got back on track under the lights Monday with a slalom - and veteran gate-runner Sacha Gros (Vail, CO) used the opportunity to earn his first World Cup points as he finished 16th on a take-no-prisoners side hill course behind Norway's Finn Christian Jagge.
"Yeah, nice to get that monkey off my back and get those first points," Gros said after returning from drug control where he'd been a random choice to check. ""It was an awesome course, really hard snow and, at night, it was sweet, a lot of fun."
Jagge had a two-run time of 1:38.67 with Austrian Benjamin Raich runnerup in 1:38.90. Reigning World Cup champion Thomas Stangassinger, another Austrian, dropped a spot to third place on the final run to finish in 1:39.24. Gros, the only U.S. skier to reach the second run, came out of No. 41 start to be 23rd on the first run and, with the sixth-fastest time for his final run, was clocked in 1:40.68.
"Sacha was definitely feeling the heat. He knew he had to score here or his spot was in jeopardy, and he came through. He was third in a Europa Cup a couple of days ago and he carried that confidence through to tonight," said men's SL/GS Coach Jesse Hunt. "This is a really tough hill - steep, for sure, and it's a side hill, it's got rolls in it, too, so there's a lot of terrain, not a lot of flat. It just keeps going, going, going ... he wasn't that fast on the top for his second run, but then he ripped the bottom."
Gros added, "It keeps coming at you. It's got a little bit of everything - hard, icy snow. There's a last, steep pitch and then some flat before the finish, maybe 10 gates of flat. I really felt comfortable before the finish. I think I held off up top on the second run but then I realized I had to pick it up so I really let it go before the bottom."
As he hit the finish, Gros had two surprises - his time moved well into the points and he spotted his father, who had just arrived, in the crowd. "I was kinda flabbergasted, actually, but then I looked at the crowd and I saw this guy with gray hair and I recognized my father. He was in France, so I didn't know if he'd be able to get here in time, but he made it. That just makes it even more special," the '98 Olympian and three-time U.S. champion said.
"It feels so easy now. I was being relaxed - that Europa Cup race really helped - but I was really relaxed at the start. I try not to get too fired-up; I just wanted to do my normal skiing...
"I'm really fired-up now, though. I can't wait for the next time. Yeah, I wish we had one tomorrow."
Hunt said course preparation was excellent "and that gave Sacha the chance he needed to punch in there. And he did it. That's really important for moving forward and getting better starts. He made a couple of mistakes, but he's skiing well."
The men's Cafe de Colombia World Cup schedule heads to Val Gardena, Italy, for two downhills Friday (a pickup from this past weekend in Val d'Isere, France) and Saturday before a giant slalom Sunday in Alta Badia.