Sunny skies and near perfect racing conditions greeted racers as the 50th season of World Cup racing got underway on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria this weekend. Frenchman Alexis Pinturault continued his hot streak from the end of last season, taking the win in the men’s giant slalom by 0.70 seconds over Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher, setting up what is sure to be a battle of epic proportions for this season’s GS title. Germany’s Felix Neureuther was third, 1.37 seconds back and American Ted Ligety began his comeback from injury with a respectable fifth-place finish, 1.65 seconds off of Pinturault.
Grippy snow and a straightforward first run set made for fast and tight racing as the top 30 finishers were separated by only 2.06 seconds. Pinturault set the pace with only a slim 0.15 second advantage over Hirscher heading into the second run as Ligety sat a distant 14th, 1.49 seconds back.
Skies darkened slightly for the second run as a more technical set challenged racers in the afternoon. Racing was tight as positions were constantly shuffling until Hirscher kicked out of the starting gate.
With trademark aggression, Hirscher took to the course and was building upon his advantage until he found himself sliding on his hip midway down the pitch. Recovering just in time, the Austrian managed to make up all of the time he had lost with the mistake and cross the line with a commanding lead and only Pinturault left to challenge him. The Frenchman was not intimidated, however, as he matched Hirscher turn for turn and then some, stretching his slim first run margin to 0.70 seconds for a decisive win.
Although Pinturault has been on every World Cup GS podium since last season in Yuzawa Naeba, Japan, he hasn’t been resting on his laurels and was looking to make a statement about his form here in Soelden.
“In the beginning, you never know where you are,” he explained. “You never know if you are skiing fast or not and just after Soelden, you can see where you are more or less. When you start a new season, everything you’ve done before is over, so you just have to start something new and keep going. One thing that is easy in skiing is that there is never strategy, you just have to push and push even harder for the second run.”
Hirscher, who is in search of an unprecedented sixth World Cup overall title in a row this season, was experiencing the pressure of opening the season on home snow, especially since there were rumors that the superstar was struggling in training leading up to race day.
“I’m super happy because the pressure is definitely on my shoulders, especially at the first race of the season,” he said. “If I am skiing good, everything is fine, but if I am skiing bad, it is never fun so I am super happy and a lot of pressure has gone away.”
Neureuther’s giant slalom has been rock solid in recent years, and although many might think of the German as more of a slalom skier, his skiing on Sunday definitely proved otherwise. Two unshakeable runs earned him another podium appearance in the discipline which bodes well for the rest of the season.
“I think I did two very solid runs today without too many mistakes,” Neureuther said. “There’s still some work ahead of us, Alexis and Marcel were, of course, today the two dominating guys so we’ll try to close the gap in the next weeks. For me, a perfect start to the season. Being here on the podium is really something special for me, especially in giant slalom. The last years weren’t always easy here for me in Soelden, so a perfect season opener.”
For Ligety, who pushed out of the start gate for the first time since his season-ending knee injury last January, a top-five finish is definitely a step in the right direction. Ligety’s first run skiing was quite good, although it lacked the pace fans are accustomed to seeing from one of the best GS skiers of all time.
“I’m pretty happy actually with fifth place for my first race back,” Ligety said. “I haven’t had any speed in training, so I think it’s the first step back. Second run I was attacking a little bit more, and I was a little lucky with the light so that definitely helped me a little bit.”
“I feel good.” he added. “My body feels fine, I just don’t have the high-intensity, high-speed miles in yet. I need to get there and luckily, I have a little while until the next race.”
For the rest of the American men, only Tim Jitloff managed to qualify for a second run. Unfortunately, Jitloff fell victim to the glacier’s steep pitch and failed to finish his second run leaving Ligety as the lone American finisher.
Next, the men and women head to Levi, Finland for the first slalom races of the season on Nov. 12 and 13.
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Top 10 Finishers
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA) – Head/Head/Head
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Felix Neureuther (GER) – Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Zan Kranjec (SLO) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Ted Ligety (USA) – Head/Head/Head
- Thomas Fanara (FRA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Justin Murisier (SUI) – Voelkl/Dalbello/Marker
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) – Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Mathieu Faivre (FRA) Head/Head/Head
- Luca De Aliprandini (ITA) Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|10||28||990116||DE ALIPRANDINI Luca||1990||ITA||1:06.18||1:09.95||2:16.13||+2.12||15.50|
|18||15||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR||1:06.44||1:10.00||2:16.44||+2.43||17.77|
|23||32||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||1:06.39||1:10.39||2:16.78||+2.77||20.26|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|85||54106||BREITFUSS KAMMERLANDER Simon||1992||BOL|
|82||30149||SIMARI BIRKNER Cristian Javier||1980||ARG|
|68||422359||VEISTEN Patrick Haugen||1994||NOR|
|67||422300||EIDE Peder Dahlum||1994||NOR|
|38||422112||PATRICKSSON Axel William||1992||NOR|
|Did not finish 2nd run|
|Did not finish 1st run|