VAL D’ISERE, France – French skier Alexis Pinturault delighted his home crowd by winning a men’s World Cup giant slalom on Saturday, his 10th career victory in the discipline and 20th overall.
Ranked third after an opening run in difficult weather conditions, the Frenchman excelled when the skies had cleared three hours later, posting the fastest time in a flawless second run to beat Stefan Luitz by 0.28. The German, who is yet to win a race, earned his second podium within a week.
First-run leader Marcel Hirscher made a mistake early in his second run and was further slowed by a flag — detached from one of the gates — wrapped around his right arm for several seconds. The six-time overall champion from Austria dropped to third, 0.54 behind.
The flags easily come off the gates, which mark the turns in a GS, in order to prevent skiers from getting hurt when they hook them with their arm.
“It was my own fault. It’s annoying. It’s been a long time since I last hooked a gate,” said Hirscher, who had won the last four races in the discipline.
“Beating anybody to win a race is always special,” said Pinturault after snapping the Austrian’s streak. “As we saw, Marcel took a lot of risk and made a few mistakes. Anyway, it was a great fight.”
With the year almost over, Pinturault and Hirscher have so far won all giant slalom races in 2017.
The Frenchman won in Adelboden in early January, while Hirscher took the next four — in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Kranjska Gora, Aspen and, in last week’s first GS of the Olympic season, Beaver Creek.
In Colorado six days ago, Pinturault struggled and finished only in 12th, trailing the Austrian star by almost two seconds.
The way he bounced back on home snow on Saturday made him proud.
“This is a big satisfaction as I had some troubles with my (equipment setup) and with the snow in Beaver Creek,” said Pinturault, who also won his home race last year.
Pinturault improved to fifth in the overall standings, 50 points behind leader Kjetil Jansrud and 46 behind Aksel Lund Svindal. Both Norwegians didn’t compete Saturday.
Overnight snowfall had affected the slope, and organizers lowered the start because of high winds in the upper part of the course, while low clouds hampered visibility for the first run in the morning hours.
“They tried everything possible so it’s super that we do have a race,” Hirscher said after posting the leading time in the first leg. “It was tough to race but that was the same for all. The (time) differences are so small that it feels like we haven’t had a first run.”
Hirscher, who has recovered from fracturing his left ankle in the offseason, could have become the first male skier in nearly 37 years to win five consecutive World Cup giant slaloms after Swedish standout Ingemar Stenmark last completed the feat in 1981.
With a victory, Hirscher would also have joined Olympic champion Ted Ligety in second place on the all-time GS winners list with 24 wins, second only to Stenmark’s 46.
On Saturday, Ligety had two costly mistakes as he was 2.38 seconds off Hirscher’s time in 30th and only just qualified for the final run, in which the American posted the fourth-fastest time to finish 16th overall.
A slalom race at the same resort is scheduled for Sunday.