Neureuther top Olympic favorites in World Cup GS

January 11, 2014
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Felix Neureuther of Germany celebrates at the finish area after winning an alpine ski, men's World Cup giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

ADELBODEN, Switzerland (AP) — One month before the Sochi Olympics, Felix Neureuther broke the monopoly of Alpine giant slalom’s big three favorites on Saturday.

Though world champion Ted Ligety was undone by bad luck, Marcel Hirscher and Alexi Pinturault were beaten on merit by the popular German, whose victory on a classic World Cup slope reduced his team director to tears.

Not since February 2012 — one world championship and 14 World Cup races ago — had anyone outside the dominating trio won a men’s GS. In fact, they rarely let anyone else on the podium.

“To tell the truth, I never thought in my career I would win a GS,” said Neureuther, who was fast becoming an Olympic medal favorite after his slalom triumph on Monday in Bormio, Italy.

Neureuther had been just seventh fastest in the first run, but used some of the disappearing sunshine in the afternoon to race to a winning margin of 0.10 seconds ahead of morning leader Thomas Fanara of France. Hirscher of Austria was third and Pinturault of France fourth.

Ligety failed to finish and was generous in defeat, which might have been a victory had the American not been launched off a bumpy rut in the soft, unpredictable snow midway down his second run.

″(Felix) is one of my better friends on the World Cup tour. It’s cool to see him get a win,” said Ligety, who has skied out in two of three GS races since opening the season with back-to-back wins. “He’s been pushing the envelope in GS for the last year and finally put together two good runs. It’s not really a surprise.”

Maybe it was to the German team which had taken just a single men’s GS victory from 47 years of World Cup racing.

The German ski federation’s Alpine director, Wolfgang Maier, was seen weeping in the finish area with the emotion of a triumph to follow Max Rieger’s win in March 1973 at Mont Saint-Anne, Canada.

“It’s just unbelievable. It makes me very proud,” said Neureuther, whose father, Christian, finished third in the Mont Saint-Anne slalom two days after Rieger won.

Neureuther is now two-for-two in 2014 despite needing a splint on his right hand after dislocating this thumb two weeks ago.

For the second time in a week, Ligety found trouble the second time down though he could do little to avoid it.

“I just bounced into the gate a little bit unexpectedly, the ski ripped off and that is just part of ski racing,” said Ligety, who won this race last year. “It is definitely a kick in the groin.”

A four-time winner of the season-long GS title, Ligety dropped to third behind Hirscher in his defense of the crystal globe trophy.

Hirscher earned 60 race points and leads Pinturault by 75 in the GS standings. Four-time winner Ligety trails by 120 with three races remaining.

“It’s very positive for me about the standings,” said Hirscher, adding that Ligety’s bad luck was “a shocking moment.”

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway placed 12th and retained his lead in the overall World Cup standings, 77 points ahead of two-time defending champion Hirscher.

A typically large and raucous crowd of 29,500 lining the Kuonisbaergli course had only one Swiss racer to cheer in the second run. Carlo Janka, the Olympic champion in giant slalom, finished 20th, 2.24 behind Neureuther in the softening snow with temperatures reaching 10 degrees (50F) in places.

The Adelboden meeting, which featured in the very first week of World Cup racing, concludes on Sunday with a slalom. Neureuther and Hirscher will be the favorites.

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