The World Cup tour returned to the slopes of Yuzawa Naeba, Japan, for the first time in 41 years on Saturday as French ace Alexis Pinturault took his first giant slalom win of the season with a total time of 2:34.23 seconds. Pinturault bested another Frenchman, Mathieu Faivre, by 0.51 seconds, giving the French the 1-2 punch. Italian journeyman Massimiliano Blardone also returned to the World Cup podium for the first time since winning the GS in Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 2012, finishing in third, 0.67 seconds back.
Warm temperatures, technical course sets, and softening snow throughout the day made for challenging racing as many skiers found themselves sliding helplessly backwards in the standings during the second run. As the sun continued to beat down on the slope, Pinturault, sitting in second after the morning’s run, kicked out of the gate and knew he had to ski aggressively but with smart tactics if he was to take the win. First run leader Fritz Dopfer of Germany was unable to hang on to his advantage and slipped to seventh, handing the Frenchman his 11th career World Cup victory.
“It’s my first time here and that’s very special because all the people are really interested in skiing and that was not really expected for me,” Pinturault said in the finish. “Finally for me it’s going well, also for the French Ski Team because Mathieu is just behind me. What could be better today? I think nothing.”
“I think it was a really good one because the race today was not really easy,” he added. “It was really difficult to attack and control because some gates were quite bumpy in the second run and there was also some nice terrain at the end. Some gates you have to control and some gates you have to attack so you really have to be smart.”
For Faivre, Saturday’s result marked the first time the 24 year old has reached the World Cup podium after several seasons of chipping away at his world rank.
“I’m very happy about my first World Cup podium,” Faivre said. “I’ve had a good season so far with a lot of top 10s. I’ve been getting closer and closer and today, I am on the podium. The course was not easy, it was bumpy and there were a lot of gates where you could lose time.”
The third man on the podium, Blardone, started this season with a GS world rank of 172 – a far cry from the days when he was a perennial podium threat in World Cup GS for nearly a decade – and has decided that this will be his farewell season. The 36-year-old Italian, who first made the national team when Alberto Tomba was still racing, hopes this result indicates that a sweet goodbye to the World Cup is in his future.
“Today was a difficult race because the conditions and the snow were very difficult. Congratulations to all the people working on the piste, really good work,” said Blardone. “And for me, it was a special day today. I am extremely happy. I’ve worked very hard to reach this podium today. I want to dedicate this to my two kids. What made the difference today was my experience. In this race, you needed to know at which points to hold back and at what point you can let go.”
The Yuzawa Naeba venue received good reviews from the racers who enjoyed the challenge and variety of terrain found on the slope. Steeps, flats, sidehill sections, and some tough terrain were all factors in Saturday’s GS. Many of the racers were also surprised at how many enthusiastic Japanese fans were in attendance, adding to the race’s unique atmosphere.
“For me, it’s a really nice hill,” Pinturault concluded. “Maybe not like Adelboden, but I think they have a special place for World Cup, and I think it’s a perfect slope for World Cup giant slalom.”
Overall World Cup and GS points leader Marcel Hirscher was another athlete who struggled on the challenging second-run conditions, dropping from third after the first run into sixth. His technical rival Henrik Kristoffersen, meanwhile, managed to leapfrog over him to claim fourth. This now positions the Norwegian in second place in the overall standings, 124 points shy of Hirscher.
It was a disappointing day for the Americans as only David Chodounsky managed to finish inside of the top 30 in 26th place, 3.64 seconds off the pace. Costly mistakes by Tim Jitloff and Tommy Ford ended their days early, and with Ted Ligety sidelined for the season with a torn ACL, the American GS team will be looking forward to their next shot at redemption in Hinterstoder, Austria, at the end of the month.
“Whew, tough GS race today in extremely warm conditions,” Chodounsky posted on his Instagram account after the race. “Not the greatest race for me but still nice to be in the points! Congrats Alexis Pinturault for a great win! Thanks Japan for the support and great atmosphere. You rock!”
The men now switch gears and strap on the slalom boards for Sunday’s race with action set to get underway at 10 a.m. local time, or 8 p.m. EST Saturday.
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By Hank McKee
- Pinturault, Head/Head/Head
- Faivre, Head/Head/Head
- Blardone, Elan/Nordica/Marker
- Kristoffersen, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
- Muffat-Jeandet, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
- Hirscher, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Dopfer, Nordica/Nordica/Marker
- Caviezel, Head/Head/Head
- Nani, Volkl/Fischer/Marker
- Eisath, Blizzard/Tecnica/Marker
- Men’s World Cup giant slalom, Yuzawa Naeba, Japan, Feb. 12, 2016. … It is the 28th of 44 races on the men’s schedule. … The fifth held (with an additional parallel GS) of 11 scheduled. … It is the first since Dec. 21st.
- It is the 11th career World Cup win for Alexis Pinurault. … Just his third in GS. … His last GS win was March 14, 2015 at Kranjska Gora. … The winning margin is 0.51. … Top five are within same second. … Top 12 within two seconds.
- It is the first career World Cup podium for Mathieu Faivre. … The closest he had previously been was fourth in GS Dec. 8, 2013 at Beaver Creek.
- It is the 25th career World Cup podium for Massimiliano Blardone. … His last previous podium was Feb. 26, 2012 at Crans Montana.
- It is the 29th career scoring finish for David Chodounsky, but just his third career GS score and the first outside of the US.
- Marcel Hirscher (sixth in race) leads the World Cup overall standings 1045-921 over Henrik Kristoffersen (fourth in race) … Aksel Lund Svindal (did not race – injured) is third overall with 916pts.
- Hirscher leads the GS standings 401-297 over Victor Muffat-Jeandet (fifth in race).
- Austria leads the men’s Nations Cup Standings 3750-3307 over Norway… France is third with 3236pts. … The U.S. is sixth at 1587 and Canada ninth at 452pts.
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Run 1||Run 2||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|20||10||421669||HAUGEN Leif Kristian||1987||NOR||1:18.92||1:18.30||2:37.22||+2.99||19.00|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not qualify for 2nd run|
|21||990116||DE ALIPRANDINI Luca||1990||ITA|
|Did not finish 1st run|