ALTA BADIA, Italy Massimiliano Blardone pulled off a most startling comeback. For Ted Ligety, the challenging Gran Risa race represented a step backward after nearly a year of uninterrupted giant slalom success.
Sitting sixth after the opening run, Blardone put down a blistering second leg Sunday to claim his third victory on the Gran Risa and snap a two-year run of poor results that often relegated him to skiings minor leagues.
The Italian veteran finished with a combined time of 2 minutes, 46.49 seconds to follow up his victories in 2005 and 2009 in this race. Austrians Hannes Reichelt and Philipp Schoerghofer finished second and third, 0.35 and 0.57 seconds back.
I was just full of adrenaline (Sunday) morning ever since I woke up, said Blardone. It wasnt easy staying focused these last two years, but Ive had a lot of support from the people around me. I made a promise to my pregnant fianceé that I would win (Sunday), and now we can celebrate.
First-run leader Ligety settled for fourth, 0.58 behind. Marcel Hirscher of Austria dropped from second after the opening leg to finish fifth, 0.71 back.
Ligety had won two of the three opening GS races this season, with Hirscher taking the other.
Both of us underperformed (Sunday), Ligety said. Getting fourth is not something I strive for; Im trying to win the GS races, and especially after the first run where you have the lead like that.
Ligetys result snapped a streak of six consecutive top-three finishes in giant slalom going back to February a stretch that included his gold medal in GS at last seasons world championships and his third World Cup GS title.
Everybody can be beaten, Schoerghofer said. All the top-ranked guys in GS can win.
Ligety held a 1.11-second advantage over Blardone after the opening run, and it was difficult to ascertain where he lost so much time in the second leg.
Theres no excuse for losing 1.7 (seconds) when youre skiing as well as I am and Im not making huge mistakes, Ligety said. Im going to have to see what happened there. It gives me some motivation for the next races.
The 32-year-old Blardone hadnt won since his last victory here in 2009. Now half of his six career victories have come on the Gran Risa.
Italian great Alberto Tomba holds the record of four victories on the steep and twisty course, which is often called the holy grail of giant slalom.
One of the few skiers who races almost exclusively giant slalom, Blardone has had to enter lowly FIS, European Cup and even Nor-Am Cup events to keep up his ranking points.
Its been tough, and Ive felt lonely, said Blardone, who comes from the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. All the victories are special, but this one is extra special coming with the No. 19 bib. When you start No. 19 and the snow is soft like this, youre at a real disadvantage to the earlier starters.
In addition to ending a long run of personal struggles, Blardones victory also gave the Italian ski team its first win of the season among men and women.
While the first-run leaders were still to ski their second legs, Blardone immediately knew he had done something special and celebrated by acting as if his poles were a bow and arrow, shooting one pole off into the air as fans waved Italian flags in approval.
Overall World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal finished eighth, and Olympic downhill champion Didier Defago placed ninth with the No. 38 bib.
Svindal holds a 56-point lead over Switzerlands Beat Feuz in the overall standings, with Ligety one point further back in third.
In the GS standings, Ligety is 65 points in front of Hirscher.
The Gran Risas 2002 winner Bode Miller looked set for a top-10 finish but then fell on his right hip midway through his second run. The Olympic super-combined champion got back up in time to make the next gate but lost significant speed and finished 16th.
Four Americans finished in the top 15 in the opening leg. Besides Ligety leading, Tommy Ford sat 12th, Tim Jitloff was 14th and Miller was 15th. But Jitloff also made a big error midway down in the second run and finished 18th, while Ford fell and could not recover.
We probably got a little bit defensive there on this defensive snow, said U.S. head coach Sasha Rearick. The guys are skiing with confidence and theyve got to ski confidently on every course set.
Blardone took home a much-needed winners prize of $40,500.
A slalom is scheduled for the Gran Risa on Monday.