Ted Ligety entering critical phase of World Cup season
WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) -- Ted Ligety considers the next two weekends of classic World Cup races key to his challenge for the overall title.
Third-place Ligety aims to move up on leader Marcel Hirscher and Aksel Lund Svindal with seven point-scoring events in 10 days at the signature Alpine venues of Wengen, Switzerland, and Kitzbuehel, Austria.
"This is a very important month as far as whether I have a chance at the overall," the American racer told The Associated Press before Friday's super-combined event. "This is where a lot of the season momentum is gained or lost."
Still, the schedule counts against the giant slalom standings leader, whose best event is off the World Cup calendar until Feb. 24.
Slalom leader Hirscher and downhill leader Svindal can race those events on both historic Wengen and Kitzbuehel hills. Svindal also leads in super-G, which is scheduled in Kitzbuehel.
Ligety acknowledges he needs "more meaningful" results to bridge the gap of 179 points to defending champion Hirscher and 53 to Svindal.
"I can't just be scoring 500 to 600 points in GS and 200 points in super-G to have a chance," said Ligety, who can earn 100 with victory on Friday.
Ligety was the 2006 Olympic champion in combined which tests racers' skills in downhill and slalom - and which Hirscher will skip here and in Kitzbuehel.
"It's super important in as far as those are races that I can gain valuable points on Hirscher," said Ligety, though Svindal looms as the two-time world champion in super-combined.
"I feel like I should have a really good chance there because my speed is coming to the point where it's far better than most slalom skiers, and my slalom rates with a lot of the best," said Ligety, of Park City, Utah.
Yet slalom has been frustrating this season, even while scoring a career-best four World Cup wins in giant slalom. Ligety's results have been consistent - four finishes between ninth and 13th - but not at the level he wants.
"If I put together two runs that are decent, I should be on or close to the podium," he said. "I just haven't put together two clean runs where I'm actually going hard the whole way and not making huge mistakes."
Ligety found slalom gates to train on Thursday at nearby Adelboden. That plan was hatched and a helicopter booked even before scheduled downhill training at Wengen was cancelled to allow course crews to prepare for the three-race weekend.
He will decide whether to start the 83rd Lauberhorn race Saturday only after assessing his form on the downhill leg Friday over a shorter course.
On Sunday, Ligety can only improve on scoring zero points in the Wengen slalom for the past two years on a course where he finished third in 2008.
"It's really easy for 200-point swings to happen," he said. "Just because of somebody being in a winning position and blowing out."
That happened to Hirscher last Saturday, after his mistake on the steep final slope at Adelboden gave Ligety a GS win he later said was "gifted" to him.
Svindal has shown, when winning overall in 2007 and `09, that the giant crystal globe can be earned without scoring heavily in slalom.
On the flip side, Ivica Kostelic dominated the most technical discipline during a surge in January 2011 of seven victories that fueled his run to the overall title.
The Croatian, who won both the Wengen super-combined and slalom for the past two years, is ninth overall.