France's Pinturault wins World Cup slalom race in Val d'Isere
Alexis Pinturault of France thrilled the home fans with a brilliant second run under the floodlights to rise from sixth place and win a World Cup slalom race on Saturday.
He flew down the Stade Olympique de Bellevarde course to win the second race of his career — after capturing a parallel slalom race in the inaugural city race in Moscow last February.
But this victory in front of his home fans in Val d'Isere felt even more special as the 21-year-old convincingly beat Germany's Felix Neureuther by half a second and defending World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher, who led after the first run, by 0.57.
"It's just amazing," Pinturault said. "It's a great feeling to win in front of your home fans ... I felt a bit stressed but I managed to channel that."
World cup slalom champion Andre Myhrer improved from 12th after the first run to finish fourth.
The second run was pushed back until early evening and held under floodlights. The first run had also been moved from early morning to early afternoon due to heavy snowfalls in the French resort all this week.
"There was lots of snow, but the slope was great and the conditions were good, except maybe the visibility," said Pinturault, whose second run was timed at 47.33 — the quickest of the day and nearly two seconds faster than his first effort.
"People will stop saying now that I only perform in giant slalom. Maybe people will think I can do slalom now. Seriously, though, I knew I could go fast, I knew I could it. I just had to confirm it."
In the first run, Hirscher posted the fastest time of 48.49 seconds — ahead of countryman Manfred Pranger — but he needed something special to surpass Pinturault. He was a bit too aggressive and almost fell twice, although his superb balance got him out of trouble both times.
"I'm very, very happy because I went as fast as I can on the second run. I took a lot of risks and made a lot of mistakes, so I'm happy with third place," Hirscher said. "Alexis has been skiing very well for one or two years now. It's impressive how fast he is. He's going to win more races for sure."
Myhrer recovered brilliantly but it was not quite enough for another podium. He won the first slalom of the season by beating Hirscher by 0.06 seconds last month at Levi, Finlan.
Jens Byggmark of Sweden, who was third at Levi, also had a disappointing run and finished 13th after losing a pole. But, just like Myhrer, his second run was far better and he improved and pushed him up to fifth ahead of Pranger, who dropped from second to sixth.
A giant slalom race is scheduled for Sunday from a reduced height of 370 metres due to the weather conditions. American skier Ted Ligety will look to win his third straight giant slalom race of the season. He was 12th in Saturday's slalom.
"The key for Ted in slalom is that he needs to make that next step into the top seven," U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick said. "He's solidified himself in the top 15 and that's a good step in the right direction for him to rack up some more points in the future."
Ligety has won slaloms this season at Soelden, Austria, and at Beaver Creek, Colorado.
"Tomorrow is going to be a big effort," Rearick said. "The snow is inconsistent, and the light is going to be flat with such an early start at 9:30. It's going to be a challenge."