SOELDEN, Austria (AP) World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher sent a clear message to his rivals for the men’s overall title on the opening day of the season, winning a giant slalom with a massive 1.58-second margin on Sunday.
On a sunny national holiday, the Austrian’s winning run was loudly cheered by his home crowd, which was stunned just two minutes earlier when Olympic and world GS champion Ted Ligety faltered before ending up in 10th, more than three seconds behind Hirscher.
”It’s important for the Austrians to win here in Soelden,” said Hirscher, the first home winner of the traditional season-opening race since Hermann Maier in 2005.
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”I was very nervous and it was far from easy, I couldn’t believe the margin,” Hirscher said. ”All the pressure on my shoulders has fallen off now – for the next two hours.”
Hirscher held on to his first-run lead to finish in an aggregate 2 minutes, 28.09 seconds and beat Fritz Dopfer of Germany by 1.58. Alexis Pinturault of France was 2.06 behind in third, with Austrian veteran Benjamin Raich another 0.01 back in fourth.
Ligety was second after the opening leg. He was still 0.40 faster over then leader Pinturault at the final split of his second run but the American came off the racing line approaching the final flat section of the course, which before the race he described as ”chunky in places but for the most part it’s a nice surface.”
”I did some powder skiing,” Ligety said. ”There is 40 gates you can do that on and there is five gates you absolutely can’t do that on … it cost me a good couple of seconds for sure.”
It was Ligety’s worst result in Soelden. On his debut in 2005, he finished eighth and he had made the podium every year since, including wins in the past three years.
”It’s more bad luck than anything else,” Ligety said. ”It’s no tactical issue, there is no technical issue. The skis are fine and ice has always been an advantage for me. I am not really worried about my skiing.”
Ligety and Hirscher were tied for the top spot in last season’s GS standings with the title being awarded to Ligety as the American had won more races.
Hirscher said the disappointing run by his main rival hadn’t changed his approach to the final run.
”I heard it but I didn’t know where he made the mistake,” Hirscher said. ”Before the second run I had already decided to go all-in. So my tactics had already been planned.”
Hirscher’s victory gave Austria a perfect start to the new season after Anna Fenninger shared the win with American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin in Saturday’s women’s GS.
Hirscher earned his 24th career win and 10th in GS, making him only the seventh male skier with 10 or more wins in the discipline.
After new rules for size and shape of GS skis were enforced in 2012, Hirscher trailer Soelden winner Ligety by 3.12 seconds. The American continued to dominate the discipline, but Hirscher has been catching up.
”We did a lot of development on the skis,” the Austrian said. ”We have been testing new bindings and new plates. It’s starting to pay off.”
While Ligety failed to live up to his billing as a contender for the overall title, Pinturault earned his 23rd career podium.
The Frenchman, who was third in the overall rankings last year, switched his ski supplier in the offseason.
”I am really happy, it was a big test,” Pinturault said. ”The first time I skied on ice with my new equipment. Now I can be more confident and push harder and harder. I will fight (for the overall title). It could be a nice winter.”
Meanwhile, Dopfer had his fifth top-three finish but is yet to win a World Cup race.
”I always try to get to my limits,” the German said. ”That went really well today. I can’t say what I should do different to win a race.”
The race was attended by 15,000 spectators, though many missed out on the first run as the only mountain road up the glacier had to be temporarily closed after a fire truck crashed and blocked the way.
In clear, sunny conditions the course featured bumpy spots that caused problems for many racers.
Olympic super-G champion Kjetil Jansrud of Norway came 3.52 back in 15th, while 2011 overall champion Ivica Kostelic of Croatia struggled all the way down before finishing 5.78 seconds behind and missing out on the second run.
Hannes Reichelt, competing in his first race since winning the downhill in Kitzbuehel in January, straddled a gate and failed to finish.
Several top contenders, including Aksel Lund Svindal, Bode Miller and Felix Neureuther, sat out the race with injuries.
The men’s World Cup continues with a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16.