Austria's Luca Dallago has been one of the most promising young stars in the Ice Cross Downhill universe for the last four years and seemed to be on the verge of a big breakthrough to the top last season after taking an impressive fifth overall in 2015/16. But some unlucky breaks knocked him out of the top 10 last year.
Dallago -- the younger brother of Marco Dallago, the 2014 world champion -- is hoping he can finally show the world in the upcoming 2017/18 season that he has the talent and skill to win races in the sport featuring four athletes at a time racing down frozen, obstacle-filled ice tracks of 300 to 600 meters at speeds of up to 80 km/h. Dallago is hoping for his best-season ever even though he has experimented by tapering down his off-season training.
"I can't really explain what happened last year," said Luca Dallago after falling from fifth out of the top 10 last season in the world's fastest sport on skates, despite being one of the most feared racers on the world tour of Red Bull Crashed Ice and Riders Cup races. "In my mind it's impossible to finish that bad with the skill, speed and focus I had, but somehow it happened. I know I have a lot of ability. I've probably put more quality work into my riding than most. It's crazy."
The 25-year-old Dallago, feared and respected for his blinding speed on the downhill ice tracks and explosive starts, was plagued by an overdose of misfortune last season. He stumbled on a hole in the track at the Red Bull Crashed Ice in Marseille in the semi-final, ending up seventh, and then suffered controversial disqualifications in Finland and Saint Paul before hurting his back at the season finale in Ottawa.
"There wasn't much that went wrong, but when it did, it really went wrong," said Dallago, who played hockey in Graz in his youth and skied in Carinthia. "I got punished for almost every mistake I made."
The third Red Bull Crashed Ice of the season was both pivotal and a fitting metaphor for the whole winter as well as his career. He got off to a flying start in a star-studded semi-final heat pitting himself against three former world champions: his brother Marco and the Croxall brothers, Kyle and Scott. Luca Dallago showed no fear against the three former champions and actually crossed the finish line first after one of the most exciting races ever, which would have been his first Red Bull Crashed Ice win. But Luca Dallago was – rather harshly, in the eyes of most spectators -- disqualified for briefly and unintentionally tugging on Scott Croxall's face mask while trying to stay on his skates during a tight racing pile up on the first corner. Luca was actually bumped by his brother Marco from behind at the Wall Ride turn and was only trying to stay on his feet when the infraction occurred.
"Going into last season all I wanted was one win and to get it taken away by a DQ like that just absolutely crushed me," said Dallago, who is still annoyed to have his first win taken away from him. "There was no intent to grab his facemask and I still don't agree with the call. I didn't even see it or notice it. It was like slipping in the shower and holding onto the shower curtain to stay on your feet. I'm still proud of the way I was riding that night and gave everything to get my first win. But the way it turned out makes me sick. I just couldn't believe after all the hard work and focus, one guy decides that I'm out and that's it."
Normally mild-mannered, Luca Dallago erupted with an uncharacteristic outburst in the athletes' tent right after being disqualified. As others were getting ready for the final, he grabbed a chair and flung it into an empty corner of the tent while shouting in anger.
"I definitely never boiled over like that in my whole life," he said. "It was just the culmination of so many years of trying and putting so much effort into it to be able to win. And then to come so close and have it taken away. I just exploded and imploded. I was so set on winning that race that I couldn't digest or accept what happened."
Dallago admits that he takes defeats too hard and hopes to improve that aspect of his race this winter. He said his greatest strength is his creativity. He acknowledges that he learned a lot about racing down the ice tracks from his older brother in his first few years on the tour but has been trying to "figure things out by myself more" in the last season or two.
"I respect him as a racer and he's incredibly hard to beat," said Luca Dallago. "There are about five people in our sport who consistently make it onto the podium and win races, and Marco is one of them. He's not just another racer on the track for me. I used to say that I like to race against him like everyone else but to be fully honest, I really never liked to race against him. I was always watching out a bit for him. That's not to say I ever went easy on him. But I would have never done anything to him like he did to me on the Wall Ride in Saint Paul last year. Now I feel free to race all out against him."
Luca Dallago hopes that 2017/18 will be a banner season for him even though he reduced his off-season training compared to previous years.
"I put my maximum effort in last year and it just didn't happen for me," he said. "This year I haven't really had as much time to train. I'm curious to see what a season will be like without all the summer workouts. Some do really well without training as intensively. I hope that will happen for me this year."