Hirscher marches on in Alta Badia

ALTA BADIA, ITALY - DECEMBER 20: Marcel Hirscher of Austria competes during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on December 20, 2015 in Alta Badia, Italy. (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom)

Marcel Hirscher overcame a first-run deficit to record this third Giant Slalom win in a row as well as winning for the third year in a row in Alta Badia. Henrik Kristoffersen took the runners-up spot with the man with the fastest first run time, Victor Muffat-Jeandet taking third. 

The Gran Risa hill is one of the classics on the Giant Slalom World Cup tour as it weaves its way down through the trees in the dark before opening out onto a steep pitch with rollers to the finish. With a parallel Giant Slalom being held the following day, two larger rollers had been built into this section this year for the racers to deal with.

Muffat-Jeandet had used his start number, 1, to maximum advantage to have the better of the rest of the field. Hirscher was a mere five hundredths behind with Kristoffersen almost a quarter of a second back. the rest were spread out. After his shock DNQ in Val d’Isere, ted Ligety made it through to the second run but was 1.44 off the pace.

There was no place on the second run start list for the likes of Andre Myhrer (31st) or Kjetil Jansrud (37th).

Tommy Ford kicked off the second run and posted a strong time. There was no sign that it was as good as it was until racer after racer failed to better it. It took ten racers before the American was forcibly removed from the leaders enclosure by Italian Robert Nani by just one-hundredth of a second. Ford skied the course from 2009 to 2012 yet during this time his best place was 24th. Ford posted the fastest second run time from going first to eventually land in 12th spot at the end of the race.

Tim Jitloff gave the Americans more cheer as he grabbed the lead from Nani before Ted Ligety came down from joint tenth after the first run to take the race by the scruff of its neck and into the lead. Ligety was 1.44 seconds off the lead of Muffat-Jeandet and although this was the second-fastest time on the second run, he had too much to make up to have a serious attack on the podium one felt.

Haugen, Eisath and Luitz all dropped out of contention following Ligety. With each racer the conviction got stronger for Ligety but there was still the feeling that the leading three were just too far in front.

Alexis Pinturault and Mathieu Faivre could not be separated on the first run and a mere hundredth separated them on the second run, but they still remained behind Ligety with five to go. The tension was mounting!

Philipp Schoerghofer and Felix Neureuther dropped off the pace from fifth and fourth respectively. Kristoffersen had a lead of 1.21 seconds over Ligety and despite the course deteriorating a little, you felt that the Norwegian would do it.

Kristoffersen is one of the main players in the game these days and skis fast and safe. Little mistakes happened, but he still blasted into the lead. If he thought that he was going to stay on in the leaders enclosure and take his sixth World Cup win, he would have to rely on Hirscher and Muffat-Jeandet messing things up. While Ligety had been faster, by five hundredths, the deficit was too great. He too would have to rely on others if he was to stay on the podium.

Hirscher is a true champion and when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Yes, he has crashed out of winning positions in the past but he extended his lead over the young Norwegian to put the pressure on Muffat-Jeandet in the start.

With thirty racers having gone down and the eyes of the skiing world on him, Victor Muffat-Jeandet fought to stay in the course. Errors crept in but he kept going and although he slipped behind Hirscher, you could feel he was almost settling for any place on the podium. He crossed the line third, pushing Ligety off what would have seemed a very unlikely podium after the first run.

Is Ligety back to his inspiring performances after the nightmare of Beaver Creak and Val d’Isere? It is too early to say as he has only finished on the podium once in his last seven races, a victory in Soelden. Of the 15 times Ligety has raced on this track, he’s won twice (2010, 2012), podiumed six times, been in the top ten 12 times, 12th one time, and DNFd/DNQ twice. Safe to say, he’s had some great success and consistency on this track. As a reminder, Ligety has won 24 GS World Cup races, outright second most among men only trailing record holder Ingemar Stenmark who won almost double the amount of races (46).

How tough is it for the rest of the field to break up the Ligety / Hirscher duopoly of race wins in Giant Slalom. Ligety (16 wins) and Hirscher (15) have won 31 of the last 37 Giant Slalom World Cup events. Italy’s Massimiliano Blardone (2), France’s Alexis Pinturault (2 ), Deutschland’s Felix Neureuther (1 ) and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen (1) were the other winners in this run. This run of 36 GS races started with the season opener in Sölden in October 2011.

Same podium as in Val d’Isere to further emphasize the difficulty!

Full results