Neureuther leads 1st slalom run; Hirscher only 11th
MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, Italy (AP) Felix Neureuther took advantage of soft snow conditions to win a World Cup slalom race Monday night and take the lead in the discipline standings from Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher, who finished only seventh.
Leading after the opening leg, Neureuther clocked a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 40.57 seconds down the steep Canalone Miramonti course to edge German teammate Fritz Dopfer by a huge margin of 0.82 seconds.
''I just wanted to ski smooth. That was my master plan and it worked really good,'' Neureuther said after a display of quick and precise turns that often saw him place his gloves on the snow for balance.
Jens Byggmark of Sweden finished third, 0.86 back.
Hirscher, the three-time defending overall champion, entered on a three-race winning streak in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom and had finished on the podium in all six previous tech races this season.
But with the temperature at 8 degrees Celsius (46 Fahrenheit) for the first run and only slightly colder for the second leg, Hirscher didn't have the hard and icy surface that he prefers - like when he won this race two years ago by a large margin over Neureuther.
''It wasn't that easy,'' Neureuther said. ''There were some holes. I just tried to stay smooth and relaxed.''
For a good while after his second run, Hirscher kept his red-and-gold-colored helmet on and stared back up at the slope, seemingly attempting to analyze what went wrong.
Hirscher may have been exhausted after winning a physically demanding giant slalom on a bumpier than usual course in Alta Badia on Sunday.
Hirscher stood only 11th after the opening run, which was set by his coach Michael Pircher, then had the ninth-fastest second leg.
''I thought that on this difficult of a course a clean run would be enough,'' Hirscher said. ''In the end it was too little attacking. In Alta Badia I was flabbergasted, because I did not think I was that fast. Today I was again astounded, because I thought that I was actually faster. My feeling has deceived me twice.''
Neureuther moved 24 points ahead of Hirscher in the slalom standings.
In the overall, Hirscher remained 34 points behind leader Kjetil Jansrud, who does not race slalom.
It was the 10th career win for Neureuther, the son of 1976 Olympic champion Rosi Mittermaier and Christian Neureuther, a six-time winner on the World Cup circuit.
Neureuther also took the silver medal in slalom behind Hirscher at the 2013 world championships. It was his third podium finish this season - having placed third in the opening slalom in Levi, Finland, last month and second behind Hirscher in Are, Sweden, eight days ago.
Dopfer is still seeking his first win and this marked his fourth runner-up finish.
Fans lined both sides of the course nearly halfway up the hill.
Byggmark, the silver medalist in slalom at the 2011 worlds, hadn't finished on the podium in more than two years.
''This is a big surprise for me,'' Byggmark said.
Olympic bronze medalist Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway finished fourth and Alexis Pinturault of France was fifth.
Olympic champion Mario Matt of Austria straddled a gate toward the end of his second run, as did American racer Ted Ligety.
The men's circuit resumes with a downhill in Santa Caterina Valfurva on Sunday, where Jansrud will be the favorite.
''I know what I have to do over Christmas,'' Hirscher said. ''Train slalom.''