Hirscher wins but Luitz steals the show

It may not have looked pretty for the crowds watching but this was a race full of drama, intrigue and nearly a first World Cup Giant Slalom win for Germany’s men since 1973. In the end it was Marcel Hirscher that scored his first win of the season with the final run of the weekend. bright sunshine greeted the racers first thing and yet the new snow scraped off the track to the side of the course and the tight track gave the racers plenty to think about, including the Mr GS, Ted Ligety who had an awkward first run that left him off the pace and down in sixth spot. At the top and away in the lead after the first run were Marcel Hirscher and Alexis Pinturault with Philipp Schoerghofer back to form in third. Little could be sensed of the drama that was to unfold on the second run. The final result will show that Hirscher won ahead of Stefan Luitz and Ted Ligety in third. This is how it all came about.

From the moment that young Frenchman Mathieu Faivre kicked out on the second run, you could see this was a race that would be won and lost by mistakes committed. The skiing may not have been pretty but this is a steep hill and combined with the new snow and the tight course, it was a hill where the racers had to go for it.

Faivre skied well and posted a competitive time but was immediately beaten by Roberto Nani  and his time held its own until Stefan Luitz came to the finish. Luitz killed the course in a manner that Ligety would have been delighted with. Luitz and Nani posted the fastest two times of the second run with the German’s time a second faster than the rest of the field. How long would he stay in the leaders box no one knew but with each racer’s lead at the top growing and diminishing at the first split before disappearing at the second, you could sense that this was something special by the young German. It was the middle section that Luitz had nailed and the say him stay at the top of the tree for so long.

With Ligety having been 1.72 seconds off the lead after the first run, you knew he was going to go out on the attack for the second run. By the first split he had extended the lead he held over the German and this was growing in the second split before a huge error saw him scrub the speed off and with it the chance of taking his third race in a row in the GS. Ligety is not a big fan of the race slope here but does like the resort yet was a frustrated figure in the finish area. With five more racers to go, the excitement was growing.

Fritz Dopfer was the last German male racer to stand on the podium in Giant Slalom and yet few were around in 1973 when a German had last stood on the top step of World Cup Giant Slalom – Tobi Barnerssoi had almost achieved it in Val d’Isere in December 1993. When Schoerghofer made one error too many from third you knew that the battle for the win was between Alexis Pinturault, who had won the Slalom 24 hours earlier on the same hill, and marcel Hirscher. Five hundredths separated the two so nothing could be give. Pinturault was first off and was looking extremely impressive as he approached the final three gates.

Then disaster for the prodigious French talent. Three gates from home he got caught on his inside ski and slipped under the gate. he had to scramble around the gate from below but his chance of making it a double win over the weekend was gone. With such a tight margin between success and failure, Pinturault had to go for it but to be so close to the holy grail and lose it was a nightmare. Could Luitz hang on for one more racer…

As the clock ticked and the crowd came to terms with Pinturault crashing out, Hirscher’s coach lent over and told him the Frenchman was out of the equation. Hirscher admitted afterwards that he did not know what to do. Did he go for it and risk the same result as his French rival or ski safe? The Austrian held a lead of 2.75 seconds over Luitz from the first run.

Hirscher admits that he knows only one to win and that is to attack. While the advantage dwindled at the two splits, the lead was still intact when he crossed the line 1.16 seconds in front. Hirscher commented afterwards: “ “It’s hard to know how much to break …but I decided I had to give it all I had to make sure I win – luckily it paid off. It’s my first victory this season and Val d’Isere has always been special for me. This hill requires some real skiing from us. I am not a big fan of flat GS races and its great to win on such a difficult slope. In a way this victory lifted some weight off my shoulders and it has been a great weekend altogether.”

For the young German who had come so close to the win, his bets result prior to this race had been 13th in Beaver Creek, he reacted: “I think only when there were about ten guys left on start I realized what I have done today and that my second run could be good enough for a podium finish. I felt good coming down the slope, and I am sure the perfect slope conditions and sun all along helped – but it all feels a bit unreal!”

For Ligety, happy to have salvaged a podium: “I am still happy with my third place today,” Ligety said. “It has been a fight on this slope – we came from Beaver where the distances between gates were 31 meters to this very steep slope where you need to make your turns in 21 meters. I prefer to call this a Super Slalom then a Giant Slalom, it’s not easy to ski here and as I have mostly been training on wider distances I knew I might not do as well as I did in the first races, so a third is still something to be happy about.”

This was Hirscher’s first win of the season, his tenth in the last two and brought him to within twenty points of Ted Ligety in the race for the Giant Slalom Globe. The tour heads to Alta Badia next week on a hill that Ligety believes is much more of a real GS slope. In the race for the Overall, Aksel Lund Svindal managed to maintain his hold on the lead with a hard fought sixth place.