The giant slalom: Hirscher or Ligety or chaos?
BEAVER CREEK — Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal is no dummy.
He saw Friday, Dec. 1’s super-G and how times slowed as the race order proceeded with the unseasonably warm weather at Beaver Creek.
So for Saturday, Dec. 2’s downhill, when he got the chance, he took the No. 1 bib in the pre-race draw, put down a time of 1 minute, 40.46 seconds and captured his 33rd World Cup win.
It was a bold stroke to go No. 1 in the downhill. Usually, the leaders in the downhill points, who get first pick of where they go in the top 30, opt for Nos. 15-23.
But again, you don’t win 33 times on tour without a feel for the course conditions.
That brings us to Sunday, Dec. 3’s giant slalom. We’ll get into all things Marcel Hirscher and Ted Ligety, yet how does the weather play out in a two-run technical race?
For the uninitiated, in GS, the prime real estate for starting bibs is Nos. 1-7. Weather doesn’t change that.
But what happens with the flip? (Only the top 30 racers qualify for the second run and go in reverse order of their first-run times, hence the term flip.)
The second run on Sunday is at 12:45 p.m. and the sun should be out as it was Saturday. Is it an advantage to be first after the first run, and, thus, running last in the second on what could be a choppy track?
Do we have mayhem in that second run that interferes with the anticipated Hirscher-Ligety showdown?
The 2015 combined
Anyone remember the 2015 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships men’s combined race?
On a balmy day — temperatures in the mid-50s — the downhill portion went as expected. Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud (no surprise) led after the morning session with Switzerland’s Beat Feuz (no surprise) and American Jared Goldberg (OK, a surprise) in tow.
Austria’s Marcel Hirscher just made the flip in 30th by 6-hundredths of a second, while Ted Ligety was 29th.
They were 3.16 and 3.03 seconds back, respectively, going into the afternoon slalom. Both are the best of the tech-skiing world, but that was too much time to overcome with just one slalom run.
Hirscher and Ligety had a clean track on a warm day and were first and second to race, coming out of the flip. The Austrian crushed the slalom in 49.93 seconds. Ligety wasn’t far behind in 50.36. And the times kept slowing.
All things considered, Jansrud’s slalom time of 53.28 was darn good, given that he had run 30th on a slushy track. In fact, Jansrud did a mock stagger in the finish area, indicating the difficulty of the run.
The podium ended up being Hirscher with the gold, Jansrud silver and Ligety bronze.
Apparently, 3.16 seconds wasn’t insurmountable.
Does someone come out early from the flip on Sunday and lay down an unbeatable time?
It’s worth watching.
Marcel and Ted
The list of GS champions at Birds of Prey accompanies this piece and it’s pretty easy to see why all have their eyes on Hirscher and Ligety. They’ve won the last eight giant slaloms on the course.
Hirscher is the no kidding, Sherlock, favorite, as the defending World Cup giant slalom champion and Worlds champion from February in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Yet, history indicates that this is Ligety’s hill. Even in seasons when Hirscher has beaten Ligety in the GS points (2011-12 and 2014-15), the American has a 3-1 advantage at Birds of Prey.
Both are coming off injuries — Hirscher (ankle) and Ligety (back). Hirscher finished 17th in Levi, Finland, slalom, which looks bad, but he did have the third fastest time in the first run.
Ligety has been in DNF in the two super-Gs he’s entered, but Sunday is GS — 24 of his 25 wins on the World Cup have been in giant slalom; it’s kind of his thing.
Game on, er, race on.
Oh, yes, other racers
With everything Hirscher-Ligety, do remember that there are other athletes in this race.
France’s Mathieu Faivre was second in the World Cup GS last season behind Hirscher. Faivre edged fellow countryman Alexis Pinturault, 440-439. Germany’s Felix Neureuther was fourth.
Speaking of Neureuther, with the Soelden, Austria, GS cancelled, the Levi slalom has been the only tech event of the season so far. The podium there was Neureuther, Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen and Sweden’s Mattias Hargin.
Props to The Associated Press’ Pat Graham. He had Svindal in Saturday’s downhill. The Vail Daily sports editor wasn’t too far off with Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who was second. Vail Daily sports writer John LaConte picked Jansrud (11th).
As always these predictions are for your amusement:
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