Herbst blazes to fourth slalom victory in Kranjska Gora
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia
If there was any doubt as to who might be the Olympic favorite in slalom in Vancouver, Austria's Reinfried Herbst quickly ended that debate. The 31-year-old skied two strong runs in Kranjska Gora to capture his fourth victory of the season.
The win for the 2006 Olympic silver medalist was also his second in six days coming off Tuesday's "Night Slalom" triumph in Schladming.
Herbst, who was second after the morning run, only trailing Italy's Giuliano Razzoli by .02 seconds, was aggressive, steady and smart in the second run, surpassing countryman Marcel Hirscher by four-tenths to take the lead. Razzoli made a series of mistakes and ultimately straddled a gate, giving Herbst the win.
"It's been a great season - it's a good situation for me," said Herbst. "Today it was very hard. The second run was very bumpy and the snow was difficult. I saw that the racers in front of me had troubles and lost a lot of time. In the start I knew I needed a perfect run to get on the podium, but I had the right feeling to attack and it was a good second run."
Herbst two-run winning time was 1:45.35.
Once again, the 20-year-old Hirscher was absolutely amazing in his second run. He clocked 50.37, which was the fastest of the afternoon, .76 seconds quicker than his nearest competitor, Felix Neureuther of Germany who finished fourth. As a result of the spectacular run, he jumped all the way from 15th to take second place.
"It's amazing, what should I say," said Hirscher about the run and second-place showing. "I pushed very hard and I can't explain what happened during the run. We changed some things and the materials were perfect. The skis were good and my physical training was very good in summer so I had a lot of power for the finish. It's an amazing weekend."
After a less than average first run in which he made some mistakes, Hirscher said that he decided to switch skis and boots. He told his coaches in advance that he apologizes if he doesn't make it past the first few gates in the second run. Obviously, that was not the case.
With his GS victory Saturday and two second-place finishes, Hirscher earned 260 World Cup points, moving him up to fourth place in the overall standings with 675 points. Considering the win and two podiums in Kranjska Gora, the immensely talented Austrian racer should definitely be one to watch in Vancouver.
"In Vancouver there will be so many different things than here in Kranjska Gora," he said. "Snow conditions, the slope - is it flat or is it steep? I don't know, we will see. I will train a few days at home and then we go to Vancouver to have fun and enjoy it."
Taking advantage of significant mistakes in the second run by Razzoli, Canada's Michael Janyk and Austria's Manfred Pranger, France's Julien Lizeroux moved from seventh after the first run to make it onto the podium in third place.
"In the second run, I had nothing to lose," said Lizeroux. "I pushed it hard in the last part. I needed only about two-tenths more to be in front of Marcel, but it was a great second run."
Austria's Benjamin Raich, who was third after the first run, .26 behind Italy's Razzoli, finished sixth on the day after an average second run. Raich enters the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver as the defending giant slalom and slalom gold medalist.
"I skied very well today so I'm very happy about my skiing, but not the result," said Raich. "I made a big mistake today, so that was not good, but I have to keep the feeling of what I had today for the Olympics - that's the important thing now."
With today's win, Herbst increased his lead in the World Cup slalom standings with only one more race to go at finals in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in March. The Austrian leads Lizeroux 505-462 points.
"It's a very big wish for me that I win the slalom World Cup," said Herbst. "It's one step nearer but I know in slalom that everything is possible always."
Herbst will take a short break from skiing focusing only on physical training this upcoming week. He will then compete in a Europa Cup slalom in Germany, before heading to Los Angeles, California prior to the Olympic Games.
"I'll go to L.A. for five days to catch some sun and also drive around a bit on a Harley [Davidson]," he said. "After that I will go to Canada. I don't know the slope there. I don't know the hill. I heard the snow is very different, but we will have training in Vancouver so I hope to find my set-up and then anything is possible."
By Brian Pinelli
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