SOELDEN, Austria – A year ago on the Rettenbach glacier, Austrian Marcel Hirscher set the tone for his 2014-15 season of collecting small and large crystal globes by claiming a decisive victory in the giant slalom opener as Ted Ligety finished a disappointing 10th. If not for winning gold in the World Championships, Ligety would have written off the season as a failure.
But the tallies refresh anew every year in Soelden, and Ligety is back on top after claiming a nail-biting victory over Frenchman Thomas Fanara in second and Hirscher in third to usher in the 2015-16 Audi FIS Alpine World Cup season.
Mastering the lower flat by carrying speed off the pitch and then gliding through the final gates on the course was something Ligety learned from Swiss great Didier Cuche in 2009.
“That’s the most crucial part of this hill, that bottom flat because you can lose a little bit of time on the pitch as long as you can carry that speed across the flat,” said Ligety. “I learned my lesson the opposite way back in the day with Cuche – I had beat him by seven-tenths on the pitch and he crushed me by eight-tenths on the flat, and so learning from that and knowing that … that’s something I’ve been able to do over the last couple of years and it helps make up some time but at the same time you can’t lose too much on that pitch.”
With Ligety’s 24th career giant slalom victory, he officially passed Michael von Gruenigen (with whom he was tied heading into the race) on the all-time record board in second place for World Cup wins in the discipline behind Ingemar Stenmark’s 46. The American held a 0.17-second lead over Hirscher heading into an action-packed second run that kept fans on the edge of their seats.
A 24-year-old Austrian by the name of Roland Leitinger, who had only ever qualified for one other second run in his career, turned heads when he finished the first run in 26th from bib 39 and then held the lead in the second on the Rettenbach through 13 more challengers until Norwegian young gun Henrik Kristoffersen matched his time. The two were ultimately dethroned from the leader box by Alexis Pinturault, but then Felix Neureuther joined them in second place with a three-way tie. The trio ultimately finished sixth just behind Pinturault.
Pinturault’s teammate Fanara, sitting third after the first run, turned on the jets in the second and charged into the lead, besting Hirscher by a scant 0.02 seconds and guaranteeing his first career podium at Soelden.
“I told myself nothing is impossible, so you can do it. Just go fast and have fun, that’s it,” Fanara said about his mindset entering the second run. “It feels great – first time on the podium in Soelden. It’s never easy to be fast here in the first race. You don’t really know about your shape. Normally this slope is a little bit too flat for me but today it was OK, so that’s great, I am very happy about it. … There are three (French) guys in the top seven so for the training it’s very good to have these references. Today I’m the fastest French but next time you don’t know because these guys are really fast.”
During Ligety’s second run, his 0.33-second advantage over Fanara evaporated as he lost elevation in the middle of the pitch, and he was dead even with the Frenchman two splits from the end of the course. Working his magic on the lower flat, he miraculously made up 0.15 seconds by the time he crossed the finish line.
“It gets dark in the second run and there are some holes and it doesn’t feel good, but you just have to remember to try to keep yourself going down the hill and work for a little bit of speed when you can and try to survive in other places,” said Ligety. “I guess I found the right combination of that today.”
Before anyone feels sorry for the defending Soelden champion on his third-place result, Hirscher was quick to set fans straight.
“I’m super happy with (third) because the preparation this year has been totally weird. Sometimes I have skied really good training runs where I was maybe half a second in front of the other Austrians, but there have also been training where I was two seconds behind – for example – Roli Leitinger who skied in an amazing way today. Congrats for that!” admitted Hirscher. “So I was super nervous before the race today. But finally I’m super happy. A lot of pressure has gone away already, and I’m looking forward to a day off tomorrow.”
Tim Jitloff of the U.S. Ski Team was the only other North American to qualify for the second run. He finished the day in 17th, a career-best result for him at the venue with which he confessed he’s “never had a very good relationship.”
Both Ligety and Hirscher now shift their focus to the opening slalom race of the season in Levi, Finland, scheduled for Nov. 15.
View more photos from this race here.
By Hank McKee
1. Ligety, Head/Head/Head
2. Fanara, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
3. Hirscher, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
5. Pinturault, Head/Head/Head
6. Leitinger, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
6. Kristoffersen, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
6. Neureuther, Nordica/Nordica/Nordica
9. Faivre, Head/Head/Head
10. Muffat-Jeandet, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Men’s World Cup giant slalom, Soelden, Austria, Oct. 25, 2015. … It is the second race of the 2015-16 World Cup season and the first of 45 for men … the first of 10 men’s giant slaloms. … It is the 32nd World Cup race hosted by Soelden. … Marcel Hirscher won this race last season kicking off a World Cup championship season. … American Ted Ligety won three consecutive times at Soelden from 2011 through 2013. … Bode Miller won here in 2003 and 2004.
- It is the 25th career World Cup win for Ted Ligety, his 24th in GS and his fourth at Soelden in the last five seasons. … It is the 288th U.S. win … the 65th in GS.
- Thomas Fanara matches his career-best result. … It is the third time he has finished second in a World Cup race without recording a win. … It is his ninth podium placing … his first at Soelden where he placed fourth in 2012 and fifth in 2008.
- It is the 73rd career World Cup podium for Marcel Hirscher … his 32nd in GS and his fourth at Soelden.
- The top four finishers were within the same second … fifth was 2.01 out.
- Tim Jitloff matches his 14th best career score. … It is his career-best result at Soelden.
- France leads the men’s Nations Cup 184-148 over Austria. … Italy is tied with the U.S. in third with 114 points each.
|24||17||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||1:15.73||1:12.40||2:28.13||+4.25||28.95|
|28||12||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR||1:14.98||1:13.35||2:28.33||+4.45||30.31|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|72||491853||DEL CAMPO Juan||1994||SPA|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|70||30149||SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier||1980||ARG|
|20||990116||DE ALIPRANDINI Luca||1990||ITA|