Friday, December 23, 2016

Hirscher pulling away from overall World Cup rivals

The five-time defending World Cup overall champion Marcel Hirscher has been as great as ever in pre-Christmas races of the 2016-17 season. Yet to miss a podium in a regular giant slalom or slalom, Hirscher leads the overall standings by 251 points to last two seasons' runners-up Kjetil Jansrud and Henrik Kristoffersen in tied second place. Besides that, Hirscher is leading the discipline standings in both slalom and giant slalom.

Hirscher claimed the giant slalom standings' lead from Alexis Pinturault as he won the season's fourth GS in Alta Badia, making it 33 consecutive top-six finishes in World Cup GS races. Despite a first-round loss in the following day's parallel giant slalom, he retained the red bib as his closest rivals Alexis Pinturault and Mathieu Faivre weren't classified higher than ninth and eighth, respectively.

After winning at Levi, Hirscher had an advantage of 100 points over the defending slalom champion Kristoffersen who was aside due to sponsorship conflicts. Yet in the following two slalom races, Kristoffersen has proved he's the man to beat in slalom also this season. With two victories, Kristoffersen has reduced the gap to 60 points. Yet to Hirscher's credit, he has been the only man to get even close to the reigning champion in slalom.

Given the consistency Hirscher is showing, Kjetil Jansrud's overall title campaign seems like an impossible task. Two super-G victories plus a victory and a 12th place in downhill by Jansrud is a great record in this season's speed races, yet speed disciplines are in minority to technical disciplines in the World Cup schedule. Jansrud competes also in giant slalom, yet he is still to score points in regular GS races this season. To make the overall title campaign even harder for Jansrud, Hirscher occasionally races in super-G, being even a podium contender at best.

This seems like the 2014-15 season for Jansrud again. He won't be able to beat Hirscher for the overall title but the discipline titles in super-G and downhill are the best he can achieve. After two victories, he already has 108 points of advantage over Dominik Paris in second place. Yet he lost the downhill leader's red bib to Aksel Lund Svindal by 18 points in the last race in Val Gardena as he was only 12th, ending his winning streak in this season's speed races.

Svindal was the dominant speed skier before his injuries in the past two seasons. Last season he was leading the downhill, super-G, and overall standings before sustaining a knee injury in a downhill crash in Kitzbühel. Although the recovery took time and limited Svindal's pre-season training, he is already in a great form. With third and second places in this season's downhill races, he is leading the discipline standings and one can expect him to get even better after the injury as the season progresses. The only time he has missed the podium in this season's speed races was in the Val Gardena super-G where he was in podium contention in split times but then missed a gate. He is 120 points behind the leader Jansrud in the super-G standings, which is a big gap with four races remaining.

Sharing the overall standings' second place is Jansrud's fellow Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, last year's slalom champion and overall runner-up. While he is showing great form in slalom, giant slalom and a sponsorship dispute are hurting his overall campaign.

Missing the season's first slalom at Levi due to a sponsorship dispute, Kristoffersen had put himself in a difficult position, 100 points behind Hirscher in the slalom standings. Although he has beaten Hirscher for the victory in the following two slalom races, he is still 60 points down. For comparison, his winning margin over Hirscher last season was 31 points.

Skipping Levi was also a missed opportunity to score up to 100 points for his overall campaign. Kristoffersen's giant slalom also hasn't been good enough to challenge Hirscher; he is fourth in the GS standings, already 171 points behind Hirscher.

Hirscher's closest rival in the GS standings is Alexis Pinturault. After two victories and a third place in first three races, he was leading Hirscher by 20 points before costly crashing out in Alta Badia. With a victory, Hirscher took the lead by 80 points. In the Alta Badia parallel GS, Pinturault was classified ninth while Hirscher was only 18th, yet Hirscher still leads the GS standings by 64 points.

Although Pinturault has the potential for good results also in slalom and super-G, he is already 284 points behind Hirscher in the overall standings. He has had some good slalom runs this season but hasn't been able to have two great runs in the same race. At Levi, he was fourth-quickest in the second run, in Val d'Isère he was leading after the first run before going out in the second run, and in Madonna di Campiglio only Kristoffersen and Hirscher had quicker second runs. Still, seventh in Madonna was his best slalom result of the season and he is 12th in the slalom standings.

While the five-time World Cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety is suffering from back problems, the usual GS frontrunners Hirscher and Pinturault have a new title rival. Mathieu Faivre achieved his maiden World Cup victory in the first giant slalom of Val d'Isère. He made the podium again two weeks later in Alta Badia where he was second to Hirscher. Yet two ninth places in regular GS races and the parallel GS's eighth place mean that he is trailing Hirscher by 73 points with four GS races remaining.

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