Mr GS, Ted Ligety, continued his winning run in Soelden with victory ahead of Alexis Pinturault and Marcel Hirscher as the three dominant Giant Slalom racers proved to be the class of the field in the opening AUDI FIS World Cup Men’s race of the season. The decision to bring the start down … about ten gates due to high wind did not upset the American and from his start number of three on the first run, he made the most of the conditions to open a lead of almost a second from Pinturault and Hirscher with the rest scrabbling for position behind them. With the weather threatening to deteriorate for the second run, the wind played a factor yet these three were the class acts.
The second run saw some amazing attacking skiing (for the first run report click here) as Leif Kristian Haugen used the clean track to the best use to post a time that would eventually lift him to 18th from 30th after the first run. One of the oldest men in the race, Didier Defago, took the course by the scruff of its neck and bettered the time of the young Norwegian, 10 years his junior, and Defago’s time stayed in green for a while.
Then came the French charge as first Thomas Mermillod-Blondin took the lead before Thomas Fanara, with the fastest second run time took the lead two racers later. By the time Steve Missilier came down into the lead, Mathieu Faivre was now in third, helped by an immense lower section where he clawed back almost half a second, the France held a clean sweep of the podium: How they must have wished the race would have stopped then!
As the race grew in anticipation and excitement, Bode Miller came down from 13th place. Miller is back loving his racing again and while he could not improve on his first run performance, the fans favourite said afterwards that he “has no excuse because I am not too old to win!” On this performance Miller will be on the podium soon!
With a gap of over two and a half seconds to Ligety from the first run, Aksel Lund Svindal knew he had to attack on the second run. And attack he did. Soelden is always a slight anomaly for many of the racers as there is a long time before the next race. Svindal knew that the leading three racers would be the ones to beat and was happy with his runs as he explained that he was on schedule. Svindal managed to tie with Missilier and then the long wait came for them to be knocked off the podium.
Try as they might but Richard, Mathis, Jitloff and Kostelic could not better the overall times. Neureuther, 7th after the first run, became the first casualty when his ski came off due to the bumpy conditions on the steep. Schoerghofer, Raich and Sandell all failed to better the times as the wind tore across the lower section of the course.
By now the time advantage from the first run had grown and Hirscher had over a second and a half advantage over Svindal and Missilier from the first run. Hirscher had not been happy with his first run as he had made a small mistake that had cost him dear. His second run was very impressive and he was much happier. A lead of seven tenths was the result of his hard work bit would it be enough to climb higher up the podium? Hirscher admitted afterwards that he feels the weight of expectation from the country when he races yet when he is happy, so too is Austria!
Alexis Pinturault was next down and the small margin of eight hundredths separated him from Hirscher after the first run. Although Hirscher’s run had looked inspiring, Pinturault was better. This was the sort of battle that the record 15,000 crowd that had made their way up to the glacier had wanted. OK so they did not want to see Hirscher demoted to second but great skiing was the fare. They could not argue with this.
Like all great theatre, the expectation and excitement was rising. Just one man remained at the start and this was Mr GS, Ted Ligety. It was just a few days before the races that Ligety finally felt happy with his skis and yet although he had a lead of nine tenths of a second on the rest, he still had to negotiate the second run. The light was fading, the course was bumpy and the pressure was on.
Ligety is a master craftsman of the GS and this was how to ski GS. He attacked, he stole a hundredth here and a hundredth their and he made the odd error but by the time he crossed the line at the bottom, the advantage may have reduced a little, just over a tenth, but the green light was his. Ligety had to duck to miss the overhead camera that followed his movements in the finish but the green light was his! Win number three in a row to add to his three podiums in Soelden already. “I was happy to make the finish line and see the green light,” he explained afterwards!
So as the crowd made their way down the hill and back home at the end of the opening World Cup weekend of the 2013 – 2014 season, the talk will be about Ligety and Gut. The racing is back!