Pinturault leads Hirscher after 1st run of WCup opening GS

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) Alexis Pinturault carried his outstanding giant slalom form from last year into the new World Cup campaign, dominating the season-opener on Sunday to leave his rivals in awe.

Having finished runner-up to Marcel Hirscher in the discipline standings for the past two years, the Frenchman won both runs on the Rettenbach glacier to immediately position himself as the main contender for the title.

''It's all completely new when you start a new season. Everything you've done before is over,'' said Pinturault after his commanding victory and his seventh straight podium in GS.

Pinturault finished in a two-run time of 2 minutes, 14.01 seconds to lead defending overall champion Hirscher by 0.70. Felix Neureuther of Germany was 1.37 behind in third while Zan Kranjec of Slovenia took fourth for his first career top-10 result.

Olympic and world GS champion Ted Ligety improved from 14th position after the opening run to fifth, 1.65 seconds off the lead. The American competed in his first race since tearing the ACL in his right knee nine months ago.

Only three of the last 37 World Cup giant slaloms have not been won by Pinturault, Hirscher or Ligety.

Pinturault built on his first-run lead to take his 16th career win and seventh in GS, matching the French record set by great Jean-Claude Killy in 1967-68.

''That's not really my goal,'' Pinturault said of chasing records. ''Jean-Claude is one of the biggest French skiers of all time but there are so many other great skiers. I am just thinking about taking risks and skiing fast.''

Pinturault was clean in both runs and wasn't hampered by changing conditions. After a sun-soaked opening run, partly cloudy conditions dominated during the final run.

''One thing is really easy in ski racing,'' he said. ''There is no strategy. You always have to push and go faster.''

Pinturault and Hirscher each won four GS races last season, while the Austrian captured the season title in the discipline.

The Frenchman's convincing performance made him the favorite for the GS title this time, maybe even for the overall title, Hirscher said.

''If you watch at last year's season more in detail, you will see that Alexis in 2016 was dominating. He was flying through the gates,'' the Austrian said. ''He is maybe the favorite for the overall. He can ski in all events so for me he is the man to beat.''

Hirscher, who hinted he wasn't satisfied with his own form in training, said he was ''super happy'' with finishing runner-up, especially since recovering from a near-crash halfway down his second run.

Third-placed Neureuther also said Pinturault skied ''in a league of his own.''

''I had two solid runs and did not make too many mistakes but Alexis and Marcel were out of reach today,'' the German said.

After a rather conservative opening run, Ligety showed flashes of his usual strength and used his trademark fast transition from the steep pitch onto the flat finish section to post the third-best time in the final run.

Coming fifth made him ''not euphoric'' but Ligety said he was ''definitely happy with fifth place to start it off with'' coming back from the knee injury that hampered his preparation in the offseason.

''My body feels good, I don't have any pain in my knee,'' said Ligety, who won here last year for a record fourth time and has never finished outside the top 10 in 10 starts.

Ligety will skip the next race - a slalom in Levi, Finland, in three weeks - and fully concentrate on the next GS in Beaver Creek, Colorado, during the first weekend of December.

''Now I can get a month of miles and high intensity,'' he said. ''Hopefully I can pump it up a little bit more then.''

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