ASPEN, Colo. – There had been a few whispers during the first few races of this season’s World Pro Ski Tour that two-time defending champion Rob Cone wasn’t quite looking like himself. On Sunday, the Vermont racer put any such gossip to bed, reasserting his dominance and finding his first victory of the 2021-22 circuit.
“I’m thrilled to be back on top, but I’ve tried to be consistent through all of these weeks,” Cone said. “Patience pays off. I’ve tried to let the skiing be consistent, let the results work. It just took a couple of weeks, a couple of rounds with all of these guys to be on the top step. I’ve been going as hard as ever and still been on all the podiums of the Pro Tour this year.”
Having handily clinched the WPST titles in 2020 and 2021, Cone was riding a five-race winning streak coming into the season when veteran Nolan Kasper squeaked by him in the opening race in Granby Ranch and rookie Drew Duffy took victory with Kasper second and Cone third in race No. 2.
Opening this weekend’s series in Aspen for race No. 3 on Saturday, Cone came out swinging, but was pushed to the second step of the podium by first-time winner Simon Breifuss-Hammerlander, who shot past Cone at the finish by 0.03 hundredths.
As opposed to Saturday’s stormy day of grey skies and heavy snowfall, the sun shined brightly and temperatures were crisp Sunday, although the snow remained relatively soft, which accounted for some issues for certain athletes.
Cone, however, remained cool and swift through every heat. He led the quarterfinal round against Kasper and faced fellow veteran Michael Ankeny in the semifinals, leading there and then conquering as Ankeny caught a rut and missed a gate. Cone then faced WPST rookie Joachim Lindstol of Norway in the final round. Lindstol charged into his first season racing for the University of Vermont with numerous giant slalom and slalom podiums in 2020 and gave Cone a run for his money in the finals.
“I have nothing to lose and he has everything to lose,” Lindstol said before matching turn for turn with Cone for both runs of the final heat, Cone pulling ahead by a couple of tenths on each the red and blue course to claim victory.
“Today the blue course was running really fast in the middle,” Cone said. “As long as you knew that and took advantage of releasing the ski cruising onto the flats, you could catch up to anyone on the red.”
Ankeny edged Saturday’s winner Breitfuss-Kammerlander in a tightly contested small final to take third place. Breitfuss-Kammerlander recovered from a bobble over a jump in his semi-final round against Lindstol after beating Sandy Vietze in the first run of the quarterfinals and crossing the line alone when Vietze hit a rut and lost a ski in his second quarterfinal run.
The biggest gasp of the day, however, was delivered by Duffy, who somersaulted onto the course straight out of the gate in the round of 16 and somehow rotated right back onto his feet and nearly caught up to Vietze.
WATCH: Drew Duffy’s incredible front-flip recovery out of the start. He almost catches back up for the win.
Excluding Duffy’s odd and acrobatic move, Cone said the soft snow accounted for the other bloopers of the day.
“I thought what was going on with all the crashes and inconsistencies with other racers was the snow,” Cone said. “There were big time ruts and trenches. The snow would crumble away. Even when you were mid-turn pushing on it, it would just chunk out on you. I tried to be more balanced and two-footed. I think other guys did, too. It worked for me. But for the other guys, it was tough, even though it’s friendly, soft, Colorado snow.”
Comparing the field to his previous two seasons dominating the tour, Cone said the competition, albeit many of the same athletes, has become noticeably stiffer.
“I think the veterans are becoming hardened. They’re figuring out that the start matters a ton and they’re all simplifying the course. I think that’s the key to victory for me is simplifying it. It’s a 25-second course. You’re not thinking about too much in that time. It’s the same faces, it’s just hard competition. They’re all doing it.”
The 2021-22 World Pro Ski Tour continues at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs Feb. 14-15.
VIEW RESULTS HERE
-Ski Racing Media