Grange Blazes to Kitzbühel Slalom Victory; Kostelic Claims Combined
KITZBUEHEL, AUSTRIA - Rekindling the magic of a few years ago, Jean-Baptiste Grange overcame a 0.40 first run deficit to the hottest racer on the planet, Ivica Kostelic, to win his second career Kitzbühel slalom. Grange, who started this season with a victory in Levi, Finland, skied a near flawless second run of 48.33, 0.68 faster than the Croatian.
The Frenchman’s two-run time was 1:40.93, 0.28 better than Kostelic to earn his seventh career World Cup slalom victory.
“It was an amazing race for me, I’ve always been strong in Kitzbühel because I love this slope,” said the 26-year-old French racer. “It’s always special to win here in the country of skiing. Kitzbühel and Schladming are maybe the most important races and the French have always done well here.”
Grange first triumphed here at the legendary venue three years ago in 2008 and his countrymen Julien Lizeroux did the same in 2009, while Jean-Pierre Vidal attained victory in 2006. French legend, Jean-Claude Killy won three consecutive slaloms here between 1965-1967, while Jean-Noel Augert matched the highly impressive feat from 1971-1973.
Having also finished third last Sunday in Wengen, the Frenchman appears to be back on form, considering an ACL tear that sidelined him most of last season, in addition to having hurt his shoulder at an FIS race in Chamonix earlier this month.
“I was a bit surprised when I crossed the finish line and saw my time but that was a wonderful surprise and a big gift for me because I had a really tough time in January,” said Grange.
Kostelic, who was seeking his third consecutive slalom win, fell just short, but was still extremely pleased with his result considering, including the combined, it was his ninth podium this season.
Italy’s Giuliano Razzoli – the 2010 Olympic slalom gold medalist – rounded out the podium moving up from fifth after run number one to reach his first podium this season. The 26-year-old Italian ended the day 0.69 behind Grange and 0.21 ahead of fourth-place finisher and home favortie Marcel Hirscher.
"The podium was important for me because in the beginning of the season I always went fast, but I always went out," said Razzoli. "I didn't ski so fast, but I made no mistakes in the mind so it's very good to be on the podium in this special place."
In the battle for the Kitzbühel combined title – the last remaining traditional combined on the schedule which encompasses the total aggregate time of Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s two runs of slalom - Kostelic was victorious for the second consecutive season.
Eleventh in the downhill and second in the slalom, Kostelic’s combined time was 3:40.84, 1.93 seconds faster than Switzerland’s Silvan Zurbriggen. Austria’s Romed Baumann claimed third-place.
“You want to ski fast in the slalom, but you don’t want to make any mistakes and ski out because to get good points in the combined is also important for the overall, “ said Kostelic regarding his second victory of the weekend. “For the first time, I skied fast in the slalom and didn’t think about the combined. This was a victory in my head when I can achieve what I want in both slalom and combined.”
The 31-year-old Croatian from Zagreb, completed an unbelievable three days of racing, winning Friday’s super-G, picking up valuable points by finishing 11th in downhill, ending second in slalom and finally, attaining victory in combined. Almost miraculously, Kostelic has now won six races in just 22 days.
“I couldn’t predict that I would win the super-G, but I knew that I could be a contender for both the slalom and combined, but the super-G was a bonus,” said the Croatian.
Kostelic, who was fourth two seasons ago in the chase for the overall title, delivered a serious message to his opponents with his dominant skiing this weekend in Kitzbühel. Having amassed 1030 points, he leads Switzerland’s Zurbriggen by 401. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal – who failed to finish his first slalom run losing critical slalom and combined points - dropped to third overall, 445 back while Saturday's Hahnenkamm downhill champion, Didier Cuche is fourth, 457 off the lead.
“This is a big step in the overall, there are still many races to come, but I’m in a really good position now,” said Kostelic. “They’ll have to put a really big effort in to come back, but I just need to stay healthy.”
World Cup action resumes Tuesday with the traditional night slalom under the lights in Schladming.
-By Brian Pinelli
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