Two-time defending World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher produced a superb second run to win a giant slalom race on Saturday, while favorite Ted Ligety was among several racers to ski out.
It was the Austrian’s second win of the season after his slalom victory at Levi, Finland, and fourth podium from five races so far. Ligety had won the first two giant slaloms of the season, but the American was undone by an uncharacteristic technical error.
Hirscher was third after the first run, 0.41 seconds behind Frenchman Alexis Pinturault, but tamed the hostile Stade Olympique de Bellevarde course to finish 0.76 seconds ahead of Thomas Fanara of France and 1.09 clear of Germany’s Stefan Luitz.
Pinturault made an error on the top section and finished fourth.
The Bellevarde course lived up to its tough reputation as Ligety, Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal failed to finish their first runs.
The 24-year-old Hirscher, however, was a class apart. He won the same race at Val d’Isere last year and also finished third in the slalom. Hirscher will go for another podium double in Sunday’s slalom.
His winning margin would have been even larger, but he made a slight error halfway down as he veered to the left before managing to straighten his skis.
The pressure was on Pinturault to respond and he started well enough, .28 back on first split, but then dropped .60 behind, and lost more speed at the bottom.
Ligety, meanwhile, entered the race looking for his fifth straight World Cup win in giant slalom only to end up failing to qualify for the second run for the first time in nearly five years.
The 29-year-old Ligety won the last two GS races last season and the opening two this time — at Soelden, Austria, and Beaver Creek, Colorado — but ended up missing a gate turning in from the left side, going down on his hip and out of a first run for the first time since February 2009 at Sestriere, Italy.
"It’s been a few years. But I’ve had a bunch of races where (on) second runs I went out," Ligety said. "You just have to fight. Just a little bit (of) bad luck on my part today."
The four-time defending World Cup GS champion does not count the Bellevarde among his favorite courses.
"It’s always super, super bumpy and miserable to ski so I wasn’t surprised by that at all," Ligety said. "It’s not ideal. It’s the kind of hill where anything can really happen, because it’s such a tough and rough and bumpy hill."
Svindal, an Olympic bronze medallist in the discipline, can testify to that.
The burly Norwegian was the second to start and lost his balance approaching a gate from the right, missed the next gate and almost toppled over as his right foot lifted off the ground.
"One of my bindings went," Svindal said. "The conditions were difficult but that’s the World Cup. You have to adapt."
The 32-year-old Fanara was elated after his fourth career podium, all in GS.
"It’s amazing. I have no words to describe this," said Fanara after his first podium since Alta Badia, Italy, in December, 2012. "I really conquered my demons today. Sometimes my demons get the better of me but I was able to do two good runs."