It’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts.
That was certainly the story of the day in Wengen, Switzerland where France’s Alexis Pinturault used a spectacular second run to overtake first-run leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria to win his first World Cup men’s slalom victory of the season on Sunday.
Germany’s Felix Neureuther, who was bidding to join his father Christian (1973-74) as a winner of this race, finished second while Hirscher slid into third but maintained his hold on the season standings lead in the discipline.
It was a rough day for the American tech team as rising slalom specialist David Chodounsky had a gate crash down on his skis, causing his tips to cross and him to fall.. He had finished eighth in the last World Cup slalom in Adelboden on Jan 12, and had finishes of 15th in Bormio on Jan. 6 and seventh in Val d’Isere on Dec. 15.
Ted Ligety, who won the super-combined in Wengen on Friday, lost his race line and needed to hike back up the hill to avoid missing a gate and being disqualified. The lost time plummeted him to 35th place, which did not qualify him for a second run. The day’s results saw Ligety overtaken by Pinturault for third place in the World Cup slalom standings.
“There wasn’t much I could do there,” Ligety told the Associated Press. “I got a little stuck on my skis.”
The top American in the race was old-faithful himself, 36-year-old Bode Miller who finished the first run in 21st place, 2.62 seconds behind Hirscher, and placed 26th overall, earning his first World Cup points in the discipline since 2011. His performance also gave the U.S. another quota spot in the discipline for Olympic selection.
There were positives to be taken from that performance as it relates to the super-combined, an event Miller will defend his gold medal in at the Sochi Olympics. The hill got the better of him in Friday’s super-combined slalom run, but difficult gate placement in this race served as an excellent opportunity for Miller to hone his slalom and he got in two solid runs.
With just one World Cup slalom race scheduled before the start of the Olympics, Pinturault could not have picked a better time to breakout of a season-long slump that has seen him crash out of races in Levi and Val d’Isere, get disqualified for straddling a gate in Bormio and then finishing 23rd in Adelboden. Pinturault’s last slalom victory came on Dec. 8, 2012 in Val d’Isere.
“It was especially a reward and satisfaction after a difficult time that I’ve had at the beginning of the season,” Pinturault told AP. “That can happen to anyone. I knew what I was capable of. I knew that I could go faster.”
Some mistakes in the first run left him in seventh place, .92 seconds behind Hirscher, who somehow managed to pick up speed where his competitors bled time in deteriorating conditions on the lower portion of the course.
The same course conditions manifested themselves in Run 2, but Pinturault threw down a flawless run, managing to stay on top of his skis with his knees driving forward despite all of the ruts in the soft snow. When the 22-year-old crossed with a .76 second advantage and pumped his fists in the air, it sent a clear message to the remaining skiers: come get me.
Manfred Moelgg of Italy, Fritz Dopfer of Germany, Mario Matt of Austria, Neureuther, and Andre Myhrer of Sweden were unable to usurp the lead from the Frenchman.
That left Hirscher, who was on course to take his 14th career slalom victory, which would have tied an Austrian record. But the 24-year-old made a huge mistake on the last pitch. In taking a too-ambitious approach coming onto the roll, he lost his line and threw away victory within sight of the finish.
“It was a stupid mistake,” Hirscher told AP.
World Cup racing will move to Kitzbuehel, Austria with a super-combined on Friday, the Hahnenkamm classic downhill on Saturday, and a slalom on Sunday.
Wengen Men’s Slalom
1. Alexis Pinturault (FRA) 1:42.87
2. Felix Neureuther (GER) 1:43.21
3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT) 1:43.50
4. Mario Matt (AUT) 1:43.62
5. Patrick Thaler (ITA) 1:43.63
6. Andre Myhrer (SWE) 1:43.68
7. Fritz Dopfer (GER) 1:43.71
8. Jean-Baptiste Grange (FRA) 1:43.80
9. Steve Missillier (FRA) 1:44.00
10. Manfred Moelgg (ITA) 1:44.01
26. Bode Miller (USA) 1:45.85
DNQ Ted Ligety (USA)
DNQ Will Brandenburg (USA)
DNF David Chodounsky (USA)
DNF Tim Kelly (USA)
Bode Miller equals season best with fifth in Wengen downhill