Hirscher dominates night slalom for 10th victory of season
SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — Marcel Hirscher reminded everyone of his slalom supremacy on Tuesday, winning the last World Cup race before the world championships by a big margin.
After being beaten in his last two races, the seven-time overall champion from Austria posted the fastest times in both runs of a night event, accompanied by Bengal fireworks from a home crowd of over 40,000.
Hirscher built a lead of nearly a second in the opening run and added another two-tenths in the final run to win by a massive 1.21 seconds ahead of Alexis Pinturault of France.
Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 1.60 behind in third, while the rest of the field trailed by at least 2.25 seconds.
"I showed a first run that everybody wanted to see and I am happy that it is possible again. It was so crazy to ski with all those fans," Hirscher said after his 10th win of the season, and 68th overall.
Clement Noel of France, who beat Hirscher twice to win the last two slaloms in Wengen and Kitzbuehel, straddled a gate early in his opening run and failed to finish.
Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway, who was third behind Hirscher and Noel in the slalom standings, skied out in the final run and also failed to score points.
Hirscher has won 12 of the last 16 World Cup slaloms, but he had not posted the fastest first-run time in any of the previous five races.
It prompted him to switch skis and try various set-ups of his equipment.
"We have worked hard from (last week's race in) Wengen until now," Hirscher said. "Finally I have a good feeling again, stability. I dare to take risks again and that can only come when the feeling is good."
Hirscher certainly used the right material this time, charging from top to bottom in a near-flawless opening run.
"I felt really well, it was fun. It's good when you can attack like that," said Hirscher, who showed his emotion with a fist pump.
A few hours later, he attacked again as the last starter in the final run. A strong showing by Pinturault, who was a second behind in third after the opening run, seemed to make the race close but Hirscher even beat the Frenchman's leading time.
"It's getting better and better," Pinturault said. "I still need to make two good runs, no mistakes, to beat Marcel."
Yule, who won a slalom in Madonna di Campiglio in December when Hirscher failed to finish the race, repeated his achievement from last year, when he also came third.
"I like the hill and the atmosphere. These Austrian fans are really ski-mad," said the Swiss skier, who was second after the opening run. "Hirscher was truly incredible. He can always push himself to another level."
Noel's quest to become the first Frenchman in 48 years to win three consecutive World Cup slaloms ended after just seven of 65 gates in the first run.
"It's a really cool race here and I would like to perform well here. There is a little bit disappointment," said Noel, adding he wasn't sure why he faltered. "I have to watch the video. The snow was a little bit strange, it was really grippy."
Albert Popov, who had scored World Cup points only twice until last week, had his second top-10 result in three days. The Bulgarian skier, who trains with the German team, started 46th and finished sixth, after he placed ninth in Kitzbuehel on Saturday.
Also, Zan Kranjec of Slovenia, who started 73rd, posted the third-fastest time in the final run to finish 11th.
The men's World Cup moves to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for a downhill and a giant slalom this weekend, the last races before the Feb. 5-17 worlds, where Hirscher is set to defend his titles in both slalom and giant slalom.