ADELBODEN, Switzerland – In a race peppered with World Cup history, Alexis Pinturault held off hard-charging Marcel Hirscher to win Switzerland’s classic giant slalom on Saturday.
Pinturault won a pulsating duel by just 0.04 seconds after five-time defending overall champion Hirscher put pressure on by posting the fastest second run.
With his 19th career World Cup win, Pinturault broke a tie with Alpine ski icon Jean-Claude Killy for most victories by a Frenchman in the circuit’s half-century of racing.
Killy won his first race almost 50 years ago to the day when the same storied Adelboden hill staged the first giant slalom of the debut World Cup season.
“Jean-Claude is still Jean-Claude. He has his own history, I have mine,” said Pinturault, playing down comparisons with a great who swept the downhill, giant slalom and slalom gold medals at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics.
“(It’s) just something unbelievable, and almost unbeatable,” said Pinturault, who took a giant slalom bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Hirscher is a regular history-maker, and scored his 100th World Cup podium finish – tied for second on the all-time list with Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg.
“It’s something special,” said Hirscher, who leads the season-long World Cup standings in pursuit of a record sixth overall title. Girardelli also won five, from 1984 to ‘93.
“I’m sure that when I’m getting older, 50 or 60 years, hopefully it will be great to hear that a young athlete is catching or beating my record,” Hirscher said.
Neither Hirscher nor Pinturault has won a major title in giant slalom but that looks likely to change at the world championships next month, also in Switzerland at St. Moritz. The giant slalom race is Feb. 17.
Pinturault has three wins in the discipline this season, when Hirscher was runner-up each time. The Austrian, a two-time worlds silver medalist in GS, also won Italy’s classic at Alta Badia last month.
The two standouts were far ahead of the rest Saturday. Hirscher’s Austrian teammate, Philipp Schoerghofer, finished third, trailing 1.94 behind Pinturault.
Wearing bib No. 1, Pinturault was 0.70 ahead of Hirscher when leading the morning first run. Schoerghofer had been second fastest.
Hirscher set an impressive second-run target and Pinturault acknowledged hearing the crowd’s noisy roars for his rival from the start gate.
“I heard he took the lead and also that he made a huge second run,” the Frenchman said.
Pinturault’s lead dropped at each time check, and Hirscher smiled ruefully on seeing he lost. He held up a thumb and forefinger slightly apart to show how close it was.
Still, Hirscher holds a 44-point lead in the season-long GS standings with three races and a maximum 300 points left to win. The finals week race is scheduled for March 18 at Aspen, Colorado. Hirscher leads Pinturault by 268 in the overall standings.
Pinturault joined a stellar list of skiers who have won on Adelboden’s snow-covered cow pastures. It includes Hirscher, Girardelli and other greats such as Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden, Alberto Tomba of Italy and Hermann Maier of Austria.
The two men who have won every major gold medal in giant slalom since 2009 skipped Saturday’s race.
Ted Ligety of the United States, the 2014 Olympic champion, a three-time world champion and Adelboden winner in 2013, is nursing back pains.
The 2010 Olympic gold medalist and 2009 world champion, Carlo Janka, chose to focus on upcoming downhill races and his home world championships. That left Switzerland to endure another tricky day in GS nearly six years after its last podium placing, when Janka won at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.
The home team’s best hopes on Saturday, Justin Murisier and Gino Caveziel, both skied out of the first run in sight of a big finish-area crowd on the steep final section.
Switzerland’s only finisher was 23rd-placed Manuel Pleisch, more than four seconds behind Pinturault and Hirscher in a class, of their own.
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