Friday, December 9, 2016

Hirscher facing once again a Norwegian overall title challenger

The five-time defending World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher is again leading the standings after the first five races of the 2016-17 season. After the second place of the season-opening Sölden giant slalom, Hirscher claimed the overall lead with a dominant slalom victory at Levi. Kjetil Jansrud dominated the opening speed races of the season by winning both the super-G and the downhill in Val d'Isère, yet Hirscher remained in a tied overall points lead with a 13th place in the super-G. With a second place in the Val d'Isère giant slalom, Hirscher leads Jansrud by 80 points.

Jansrud couldn't defend last winter his 2015 discipline titles in downhill and super-G, yet this season the Norwegian has got a perfect start for his campaign in speed disciplines with two victories. Yet once again his chances to race for the overall title seem slim. Hirscher already has the advantage of a tech-favoring schedule, and besides slalom and giant slalom he can score good points in super-G. Besides the speed disciplines, Jansrud does compete in giant slalom in which he once made his World Cup breakthrough and won the Olympic silver medal in 2010. Yet the past few seasons he's been struggling to make the top 20 in giant slalom and this season he is yet to finish a GS race. That will not be enough for the overall title if Hirscher stays healthy and in form.

Jansrud's countryman Aksel Lund Svindal has been Hirscher's main rival last years, though similarly to Jansrud, giant slalom has been Svindal's weakness. Back in the 00s when he won his two overall titles, he was among the frontrunners in GS before the early 2010s change in GS skis. Last year he was leading the World Cup overall standings before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a downhill crash in Kitzbühel. Svindal was just able to make a comeback in this season's opening speed races in Val d'Isère, impressing with the second place of the super-G and the third place of the downhill. Given he is likely to improve as the season progresses, the good form in the early season keeps him in those disciplines' title contention. He didn't participate in the giant slalom, which is understandable given his poor success in that discipline the past few seasons and his limited training in the offseason, yet that very much excludes him from the overall title battle.

Last winter Alexis Pinturault had a strong second half of the season, especially in giant slalom where he finished the season in second place. This season he's been ready to race for the GS title right from the start, winning the opening race in Sölden. With a third place from Val d'Isère he shares the GS standings' lead with the defending champion Hirscher.

Pinturault has versatility to compete besides giant slalom also in slalom, super-G, and alpine combined, in all of which he is a World Cup race winner. That makes him a potential overall title contender; however in the last couple of seasons his success has come only in GS and combined. He badly needs to beat Hirscher in either super-G or slalom to have a chance for the overall title. So far this season he hasn't succeeded in that; he was 11th in the Levi slalom and didn't finish the super-G in Val d'Isère.

Pinturault isn't the only successful Frenchman in giant slalom. The Frech team claimed four spots from the top five in the Val d'Isère giant slalom. Mathieu Faivre achieved his first World Cup victory and he is sitting in third place of the GS standings, 31 points behind Pinturault and Hirscher. Thomas Fanara finished the race in fourth place, yet suffered a season-ending knee injury. However Val d'Isère's fifth, Victor Muffat-Jeandet can be expected to be one of the frontrunners in giant slalom as well as in alpine combined.

The five-time World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety has struggled the past two seasons and suffered a season-ending knee injury last January. So far Ligety hasn't impressed in his comeback; he sits in sixth in the GS standings with a fifth place from Sölden and an 11th place from Val d'Isère.

Henrik Kristoffersen dominated slalom last season as he ended Hirscher's run of three consecutive World Cup slalom titles. Besides that he was third in the giant slalom standings as he finished the season as the overall runner-up. This season he missed the opening slalom of Levi due to a sponsorship dispute, putting him already 100 points behind Hirscher. In giant slalom he hasn't been able to match his results from the last season, having scored two eighth places this season.

The veteran Italian Peter Fill achieved his second career World Cup victory last January in the Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel, over seven years from his maiden victory. At the end of the season he celebrated his first World Cup title in downhill. Fill's downhill title defense got a strong start with a second place in the Val d'Isère downhill. Besides Fill the Italian team has another strong contender in speed disciplines in Dominik Paris. Also Paris made the podium in Val d'Isère as he was third in the super-G.

Boštjan Kline didn't make the podium in Val d'Isère but had solid results of fifth in the super-G and fourth in the downhill. Results like that seem promising for the former junior world champion to achieve his maiden World Cup victory this season after last season's two second places.

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