SOELDEN, Austria (AP) American standout Ted Ligety earned his 25th career World Cup win Sunday, overcoming a tough course to take the season-opening giant slalom.
Trying to regain dominance in his strongest discipline, the Olympic and world GS champion held on to his first-run lead to beat Thomas Fanara of France by 0.15 and Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 0.17. The rest of the field finished at least 1.90 seconds off the lead.
”It was tough. I am a little bit surprised I made it to the finish line as it’s a battlefield out there,” Ligety said. ”So many ruts in there and tough to see so I just tried to hammer and look for speed.”
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The victory marked Ligety’s 50th podium finish in a World Cup race. He became the third American male skier to reach the feat after Bode Miller (79), who is skipping this season, and Phil Mahre (69).
It was Ligety’s fourth win on the Rettenbach glacier. The Austrian resort, which features an icy course with a steep pitch, is the traditional venue for the first race of the Alpine skiing season.
”The hill has been treating me well but Soelden is not a feel-good hill. I didn’t feel great,” Ligety said between runs. He finished in a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 23.88 seconds.
The American has dominated the discipline since 2012 but was beaten for the GS title by Hirscher last year. The Austrian went on to win his fourth overall title.
Hirscher won here last year but settled for finishing third this time.
”It went better than I expected,” he said. ”I am very relieved that I am there among the best. You see the other guys getting stronger so I have to keep up with their progress.”
Ligety made no secret that regaining the GS season title from Hirscher is his main priority.
”My big goal for the season is trying to get the giant slalom title back,” said Ligety, who didn’t rate high his chances to take the overall championship, even after the perfect start to the new season.
”A bunch of little things have to come together to make that possible,” the American said. ”But I am definitely an outsider contender.”
A good offseason preparation laid the base for Ligety’s strong performance. Training camps in Chile and New Zealand allowed him to train much more on snow than before the previous season, which was disappointing apart from defending his world GS title.
”I am the type of skier that needs a lot of volume,” he said. ”I ski a lot more than most skiers do. Because I do all the events but also because for me to get my confidence, I need more miles than most guys.”
Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud, expected to be Hirscher’s closest competitors for the overall championship, finished more than four seconds off the lead in 24th and 25th respectively.
”I wish I could be little bit faster. I am not happy but I can understand it,” Jansrud said, referring to the tough hill.
Alexis Pinturault, who has finished in the top 10 of the overall standings for four straight years while placing third in the past two seasons, came 2.01 behind in fifth.
The next men’s World Cup race is a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 15.