December 13, 2015

VAL D'ISERE, France (AP) Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway easily protected his lead from the first run to win the opening World Cup slalom race of the season on Sunday, beating Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 1.09 seconds and taking the first round in what promises to be a fascinating contest for the overall slalom title.

Seeking a fifth straight overall World Cup title, the 26-year-old Hirscher already holds a commanding lead, but Kristoffersen's classy performance will give him something to think about in his bid for a fourth straight slalom title. The next slalom race is in the Italian resort of Madonna di Campiglio on Dec. 22.

''The course was really tight and turny, but it was like that for everyone,'' Kristoffersen said. ''On the second run, I knew that Marcel had skied really fast and that I had to push it.''

Hirscher, who earned a record fifth win in Val d'Isere in the giant slalom on Saturday, was eighth after the morning run but powered down the second run to keep the pressure on.

''After the first run, it was disappointing. We analyzed it and changed things a lot for the second run,'' Hirscher said. ''I'm happy and I'm super pumped. It was one of those runs that I usually skied when I was 18 years-old. I was great to be sometimes over my limit.''

The 21-year-old Kristoffersen won his fifth career race and fourth in slalom. His other win was in GS at another French Alpine resort in Meribel in March during the world finals, and his previous slalom win was at the Slovenian resort of Kranjska Gora - a week before Meribel. Kristoffersen is also an Olympic bronze medalist in slalom.

Felix Neureuther of Germany improved from fifth in the morning to take third ahead of American David Chodounsky - who secured a career-best fourth place and a fifth top-10 finish.

''It's unreal, fourth place is amazing. To start off the slalom season like this is super cool, get your mind where you want it to be,'' Chodounsky said. ''My first run I got popped in the face, but I still had a good run. I brought my focus in a bit (for the) second run, calmed down.''

The 31-year-old Chodounsky's previous best was fifth at a City event in Moscow in 2013. In December of that year, he also placed seventh in slalom at Val d'Isere, which is becoming one of his favorite courses.

''Even though it's a tough hill. I still feel comfortable,'' he said. ''I love coming here.''

Veteran Julien Lizeroux, the 2009 world championship silver medalist in slalom, also had a good day, taking fifth place. It was the 36-year-old Frenchman's first top-five slalom finish since placing fourth at the German resort of Garmisch Partenkirchen in 2010.

Chodounsky's impressive performance was also a welcome boost for the U.S. team, softening the blow of another disappointing day for Ted Ligety, who tied 20th with Austrian Michael Matt.

Ligety failed to qualify for the second run in Saturday's GS, having crashed in the Beaver Creek GS last weekend.

Meanwhile, Kristoffersen enjoyed better luck than Saturday, when he was just .14 behind Olympic silver medalist Hirscher after the first run but went out after straddling a gate on the top section in the second run.

''I'm a little sore today after yesterday's crash,'' Kristoffersen said. ''I hurt my leg and hip a little bit, but it's OK.''

In clear and crisp morning conditions on the choppy Face de Bellevarde course, he edged countryman Sebastian Foss-Solevaag by .31 seconds and was a more comfortable .79 clear of Frenchman Alexis Pinturault.

Neither joined him on the podium.

Foss-Solevaag's second run ended early when he straddled a gate.

Pinturault drew a massive roar from the home fans when he clocked 1.13 ahead of Hirscher at the first split, but then he mistimed a gate and went up on his skis and out.

The run proved costly for some.

Two-time world slalom champion Jean-Baptiste Grange, ninth after the first run, stumbled badly on the top section and then missed a gate lower down as he tried to gain time.

Italian Giuliano Razzoli, a contender for a podium spot, also failed to finish.

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