Soelden

AP

Alexis Pinturault wins World Cup opener; Americans just miss podium

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Widely regarded a main candidate to succeed retired Marcel Hirscher as World Cup overall champion, Alexis Pinturault passed his first test with flying colors on Sunday.

He beat teammate Mathieu Faivre to lead a French one-two finish in the World Cup season-opening giant slalom in spring-like, sunny conditions on the Rettenbach mountain glacier.

Pinturault held a slim lead of two-hundredths of a second over Faivre after the opening run but extended the margin to 0.54 in the final leg. It was the 12th time that Pinturault led a race after the first leg, and the ninth time he held on to the advantage to win the race.

“Everything is working really well, I have a good team around me,” Pinturault said. “That’s something that brings me a lot of self-confidence.”

Zan Kranjec of Slovenia came 0.63 behind in third, followed by American duo Tommy Ford and Ted Ligety, who trailed by 0.70 and 1.09, respectively.

Ford, with his best career World Cup finish, and Ligety, with his best since January 2018, came close to ending the U.S. men’s program’s longest World Cup podium drought in two decades. The American men had zero World Cup podiums last season for the first time since 1997-98.

Lucas Braathen of Norway posted the fastest second run to climb from 23rd to sixth, 1.10 behind Pinturault, while Swiss prospect Marco Odermatt dropped from third to 13th after coming wide on a left turn halfway down his final run.

Pinturault finished runner-up to Hirscher in the overall standings last season, making him one of the favorites to take over from the record eight-time champion from Austria as winner of the sport’s biggest prize.

“It’s not so easy for us that Marcel isn’t there anymore,” Pinturault said. “We have a lot of pressure, more than before. Usually all the pressure was on Marcel. But this is a wonderful start for me.”

Pinturault also won the traditional first GS of the season in the Austrian Alps when it was last held in 2016. The race was canceled due to bad weather in the past two years.

Sunday’s win was Pinturault’s 24th career victory, and 12th in giant slalom. He also won Olympic bronze in the discipline in 2018.

“This was the first event of the new season, you had to get used to racing again,” said Pinturault, adding it was “cool, a super start” for the French team to place 1-2.

The result came as a surprise for Faivre, who said before the race that his start in Soelden had been doubtful after back problems affected his pre-season training.

“It was a tough summer because of the injury. We didn’t really know how long it would take for me to heal,” Faivre said. “But training the last two weeks went very well. I had a lot of fun.”

While France led with the top-two spots, the U.S. ski team had an excellent start to the season as well with Ford and Ligety’s achievements backed up by Ryan Cochran-Siegle finishing in 11th.

Ford improved one spot from his previous best — a fifth place in Alta Badia, Italy, last season — on a hill where he had never scored World Cup points before.

“I am feeling strong. My first run was just solid skiing, real safe. The second run I definitely trusted it more and let it go. Psyched with this personal best,” said Ford, who posted a photo from the race on his Instagram account and wrote: “Nice way to score points for the first time in Sölden.”

In sharp contrast to Pinturault, another favorite in the post-Hirscher era struggled in the opening race.

GS world champion Henrik Kristoffersen failed to find his rhythm in the opening run and finished eight-tenth behind Pinturault, before he almost skied out in the final run, losing control of his inside ski in a wide left turn. The Norwegian ended up more than two seconds off the lead in 18th.

“It was a classic mistake that cost me,” Kristoffersen said. “But it’s only the first race of the season.”

The anticipated season-long duel between Pinturault and Kristoffersen will go into its next round at a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 24.

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Mikaela Shiffrin stunned by New Zealand 17-year-old in World Cup opener

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A slew of big-name Alpine skiing retirements opened the door for a new generation to emerge this season. Enter Alice Robinson, a 17-year-old from New Zealand who rallied to beat Mikaela Shiffrin in the very first race, a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria on Saturday.

Robinson overcame a .14 deficit after the morning run to edge Shiffrin by .06 after the afternoon run. Frenchwoman Tessa Worley was third. Full results are here.

Robinson, who was second to Shiffrin in the last giant slalom of the previous season in March, became the first skier from her nation to win a World Cup in 22 years and the youngest from any nation to do so since Shiffrin nearly seven years ago.

“It’s like a dream for me, and I’m still in shock,” said Robinson, the youngest Alpine skier at the PyeongChang Olympics who earned a place in last season’s World Cup Finals by winning the world junior title. “I had a feeling I was really going to like this slope.

“I was a bit nervous for the second run, but I just tried to hold it together. Just keep my nerves at bay and just try and enjoy it. Yeah, that’s what I did. I’m happy with it.”

Robinson denied Shiffrin her 61st World Cup win, which would have moved the American within one of fourth place all-time behind Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell.

Shiffrin said she made mistakes in her second run, but also that she wasn’t scared or nervous before the season opener for the first time in her career.

“For sure, there’s always disappointment when you come through the finish after the lead in the first run, you see the red light,” she said. “Alice skied just incredible today and just like she skied in Andorra [at the World Cup Finals] last year.

“This nothing-to-lose style, I can remember that in myself, so watching her is like taking a trip back in time.”

Earlier this week, Shiffrin said she has seen a “killer instinct” in the Kiwi. Robinson is coached by Chris Knight and Jeff Fergus, who formerly guided Lindsey VonnJulia Mancuso and the U.S. speed team.

“Alice is going to be a really strong competitor, and obviously she’s young, so for many years to come,” Shiffrin said Monday. “She has the ability to train a lot because all summer long, our summer, she’s in New Zealand, and she’s training. And then during our winter, she’s racing. So she has this opportunity to get massive amounts of volume in, and she’s motivated.

“Maybe it’s motivation for me as well because sometimes I do take my foot off the gas. To see somebody young coming up with sort of this fresh mindset and just be like, yeah, I can do this, I don’t need to be intimidated. That’s a cool, refreshing outlook.”

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, in four weeks. The men start in Soelden on Sunday (5 a.m. and 8 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

Also Saturday, Austrian Bernadette Schild went airborne and crashed in the second run, screaming once she came to a skidding halt.

The event was delayed nearly 15 minutes as several people tended to Schild, who has made seven World Cup slalom podiums. She was eventually helicoptered off.

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World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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