WENGEN, Switzerland – Wearing bib No. 51 and virtually unknown to most fans, Swiss skier Niels Hintermann took advantage of the snowy conditions on Friday to win a World Cup Alpine combined race.
Hintermann was 23rd fastest in the morning slalom, and that proved to be the key to victory. Starting in reverse order, Hintermann completed his downhill run as falling snow in the afternoon made the course slower for the higher-ranked racers.
The 21-year-old Hintermann, who had never before finished in the top 20 in his World Cup career, finished 0.26 ahead of Maxence Muzaton of France. Frederic Berthold of Austria was third, 0.35 behind Hintermann.
None of the three on the podium ever had a top-10 finish in World Cup racing before Friday’s unusual race unfolded.
“I still can’t believe what happened today,” said Hintermann, whose 45,000 Swiss franc ($44,500) prize money increased his career World Cup earnings more than three-fold. “I had lots of luck with the weather. After me (the snow) was increasing.”
Downhill specialists Kjetil Jansrud of Norway and Carlo Janka of Switzerland had later starts and finished several seconds slower, even on a course brought down to a lower start because of the weather.
Jansrud, racing about eight minutes after Hintermann, was more than two seconds slower. Janka, a three-time winner in Wengen, including the 2010 Lauberhorn downhill, dropped more than four seconds behind his unheralded teammate’s second run.
Both showed obvious frustration in the finish area, arms stretched wide to show they just couldn’t go any faster.
“There was no chance,” Jansrud, who won the Wengen combined event last year, told The Associated Press.
Jansrud was more upset about delays in letting racers start – allowing the snow to accumulate – than the vagaries of the weather.
“It’s a scandal,” Jansrud said, citing 90-second intervals between racers starting and allowing a scheduled break for television commercials. “It’s an outdoor sport and we’ll try again tomorrow.”
Jansrud will be among the favorites for the classic downhill on Saturday, a race that should attract 30,000 spectators after about 12,000 came Friday.
Pre-race favorite Alexis Pinturault had been fourth fastest in the slalom, with well over two seconds in hand on Hintermann. He finished 20th, just behind Janka, to ensure topping the combined standings, which consists of only two events this season.
Still, Switzerland’s men got their first World Cup win of a difficult season.
Janka’s runner-up finish in a parallel slalom event last month had been the team’s only top-three finish in a season when the Swiss host the world championships in St. Moritz next month.
It is unclear if Hintermann’s quirky victory will earn a spot in the Alpine combined race at the worlds.
“I don’t know,” said the bronze medalist in downhill at the 2015 junior world championships, “I haven’t talked about this yet.”
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