There is a new force to be reckoned with in the men’s giant slalom
And it is coming from an unlikely source.
With a spectacular second run, German slalom specialist Felix Neureuther made a bit of history while overtaking the technically-proficient French as well as World Cup frontrunners Ted Ligety of the U.S. and Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win the giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland on Saturday.
Neureuther became the first German skier ever to win a race on this course and, with the start of the Olympics just over three weeks away, the first German skier to win a World Cup giant slalom race since Max Rieger on March 2, 1973.
Rieger competed in the 1968 and 1972 Winter Games for West Germany.
“This is a historic moment I am part of and it’s just an awesome feeling,” Neureuther, who won the slalom in Bormio on Monday, said after the race. “I tried to ski smart in the right places and push hard where I needed to. I never thought I would win in giant slalom because I was always better in slalom. But I have been thinking about it since last year, and to come on top with so many great GS skiers like Ted, Marcel, Alexis, is amazing.”
Neureuther hails from a strong pedigree. His father, Christian, was a three-time Olympian between 1972 and 1980 for West Germany. His mother, Rosi Mittermaier, competed in three Olympics for West Germany, winning gold in downhill and slalom and silver in the giant slalom at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games. Neureuther’s aunts, Evi (1976 and 1980) and Heidi (1964) Mittermaier, were also Winter Olympic Alpine skiers.
In winning his seventh World Cup race, Neureuther not only eclipsed his father’s career victory total, he also served notice that he should not be discounted as a medal contender in a second event come Sochi.
The giant slalom has been dominated in recent years by Hirscher and Ligety, who combined to win the four previous races this season but each failed to finish in the top two for the first time in two years.
Neureuther set down a pristine second run, absolutely crushing the bottom half of the course to take a 1.25 second lead with six skiers to follow.
Hirscher was one of those followers, and after a fast, flowing, aggressive start to his second run, he lost most of his advantage in the middle sections and finished third, .19 seconds behind Neureuther. Hirscher retained his lead in the World Cup giant slalom standings with 380 points
After Hirscher came Ligety, the 2013 winner in Adelboden and the reigning world champion. The American looked good out of the gate, but as he approached the midway point of his run, he caught a bump which sent his left ski into a gate, breaking it free from its binding, and throwing Ligety off the course.
“The snow is just really weird. It kind of pops you out in places and then is really pealy and hard to get anything established in other places,” Ligety, who fell 120 points behind Hirscher in the World Cup giant slalom standings, told AP.
The French followed but their 1-2 placers from the first run didn’t pack the same punch. Alexis Pinturault lost time when he got caught on his inside ski during the rolling turns of the middle section of the course, and finished fourth. And where leader Thomas Fanara was clean in the first run, he made mistakes in the second, and with every turn saw his first run advantage whittled away until he had slipped into second, .10 seconds behind Neureuther.
For Fanara and the other favorites, Adelboden proved to be a tale of two runs.
Having a low bib number proved to be advantageous in the first run as Fanara, wearing bib No. 1, capitalized on the best snow conditions and posted a time which would hold as fastest. Ligety, starting third, finished .89 seconds behind. Hirscher, starting fourth, was one-hundredth behind Ligety. Pinturault, who wore Bib 6, posted the second-fastest time behind his teammate. Neureuther started fifth and finished the first run in seventh place.
“Sure, it was an advantage to go before,” Fanara told AP. “After that, I think I had a complete run.”
Sunny and warm conditions contributed to the deterioration of the course. American Bode Miller, who won this race in 2002, lost his balance in the soft snow midway through his run and skied out.
Further adding to the craziness of the first run was a near collision between Norway’s Henrik Kristofferson and a course worker who strayed onto the piste during his run. Kristoffersen appealed and was given a second start, but by then the course conditions were so carved that he placed 21st in excess of three seconds off Fanara’s early pace. He wound up placing 13th.
Aside from Ligety, two other Americans made the second run. Tim Jitloff wound up finishing 24th on his 29th birthday, while Robby Kelley came in 28th.
Racing will continue in Adelboden on Sunday with a men’s slalom.
Adelboden Men’s Giant Slalom
1. Felix Neureuther (GER) 2:34.60
2. Thomas Fanara (FRA) 2:34.70
3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 2:34.79
4. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 2:34.92
5. Leif Kristian Haugen (NOR) 2:35.84
6. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 2:35.96
7. Davide Simoncelli (ITA) 2:36.00
8. Mathieu Faivre (FRA) 2:36.02
9. Roberto Nani (ITA) 2:36.32
10. Benjamin Raich (AUT) 2:36.38
24. Tim Jitloff (USA) 2:37.00
28. Robby Kelley (USA) 2:39.35
DNF Ted Ligety (USA)
DNF Bode Miller (USA)