Ligety makes it three straight in Sölden
Ted Ligety picked up the 2013/14 FIS Audi World Cup season right where he left off last season with a victory in today’s giant slalom race at the Season Opener in Sölden. Ligety came out ahead of Alex Pinturault (FRA) by 0.79 seconds. Rounding out the podium was Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who finished 1.02 seconds off the pace. It was the third straight victory for Ligety at the Sölden Season Opener.
“I’m super psyched to win this today,” said Ligety. “It wasn’t easy conditions on the second run it was dark and bumpy, but any day you win it’s a good day, so I can’t complain.”
The top three finishers also sat atop the standings after the first run and hung on to their positions through the windy second run.
Ligety won the last two giant slaloms of the last season, but many were unsure if the rest of the field would close the gap on the American star as more skiers adapt to the ‘new’ equipment regulations. Ligety silenced those naysayers already in the first run when he laid down the fastest time of the morning as the third racer down and took nearly a one-second advantage into the second run.
“I hope to be able to have a season close to what I had last year,” Ligety said. “But repeating what I did last year in giant slalom is going to be difficult. A lot of people will have figured out the skis a little bit more over the summer and I don’t expect to be winning the races by the same margins. But hopefully I can still keep the consistency of my skiing.”
Mother Nature was not as kind to the men for today’s start in Sölden as she was yesterday with the ladies. Warmer temperatures overnight prevented the course from completely freezing over creating slushier conditions and high winds forced the start to be moved down, shortening the course to 44 gates.
The skiers with the lower bib numbers fared best on the day overall with the top-three finishers all starting in the first five on the first run. They carried that momentum into the challenging second run.
For Pinturault, it was the second time that he finished second place in Sölden. At age 22, the French sensation is already making a name for himself in the giant slalom with seven career World Cup giant slalom podiums.
Austrian Marcel Hirscher had hoped to give the home crowd reason to celebrate, but like runner-up Kathrin Zettel in yesterday’s ladies’ race, he got a place on the podium, but missed the top step. Nevertheless, two podium places on the weekend for the Austrians was a good result for the hosts.
"People expect me to be on the podium every time," Hirscher said. "But it's not all that easy. I'm not a machine and at this time of the year the pressure is always really high. It's very good to be standing here today and I hope I can continue in this direction."
For Sölden and the Rettenbach Glacier, the result was an additional highlight on the 20th anniversary of the World Cup Opening Race. The resort has been the European training base the last three years for the American team so it was an honorary double-podium for the host town today.
It was Ligety’s ninth-straight podium finish in giant slalom and his 31st career giant slalom podium. He is now tied with Italian superstar Alberto Tomba for giant slalom podiums, ranking fourth among all skiers.
While he finished well out of podium range, Bode Miller (USA) did make a strong statement that he is back and ready for action. Despite having a high bib number on the first run (32), Miller finished the first run in an impressive 13th place and ended the day in the 19th spot.
“My knee feels better than it has since 2001,” said Miller who had an 18-month hiatus. “Once I made a decision not to race last year, it took a lot of pressure off and I could focus my recovery. I needed to look at big picture and figure out if I still wanted to race at 36 years-old and what kind of shape I could be in if I wanted to race.”
The other surprise of the day was the DNF of Felix Neureuther, who lost a ski near the top of the hill on the second run after a solid seventh-place finish on the first run.
For full results, click here
The FIS Audi World Cup tour moves onto to the Northern edge of Europe when it makes its next stop in Levi, Finland for a ladies’ and men’s slalom on November 16 and 17.