Hirscher completes Austrian sweep
Toronto, Canada – By Patrick Vignal
VAL D'ISERE, France (Reuters) - Newcomer Marcel Hirscher completed an Austrian clean sweep in Val d'Isere by securing his maiden World Cup win in the giant slalom on Sunday.
The 20-year-old Hirscher's victory meant Austrians claimed all three weekend events after wins by Benjamin Raich in Friday's super-combined and Michael Walchhofer in Saturday's super-G.
Hirscher clocked a combined time of two minutes 16.28 seconds down the steep, icy Bellevarde course to win by 0.77 seconds from Italy's Massimiliano Blardone with the 31-year-old Raich in third, 1.32 seconds off the pace.
Raich took the overall World Cup lead from Swiss Carlo Janka, who posted three wins in as many days last week at Beaver Creek but crashed out in the first leg of the giant slalom, the third event he had failed to finish in Val d'Isere.
Hirscher, who had suggested his first victory was close by making his fourth podium with second place in Friday's super-combined, skied aggressively and made few mistakes down arguably the trickiest mountain on the World Cup circuit.
After clocking the best time in the first leg, he set the second fastest in the second, holding his nerve after Blardone had set the bar high with a fine run.
"I heard all the roars after Blardone came down and told myself that going for it and taking risks was the only option, so that's what I did," Hirscher said.
"My first victory is great, especially on such a demanding hill as this one," he added. "It's also great for Austria. What happened in Beaver Creek was not easy for us."
Austria, the traditionally dominant nation in the sport, had suffered since the start of the season, having to watch Alpine rivals Switzerland enjoy great success.
They bounced back in style here and Raich's two podium places in three days reminded Janka he still had work to do if he wanted to rule the slopes.
Switzerland, by contrast, had a poor weekend with Janka collapsing under pressure and Didier Cuche sustaining neck and back injuries in a training crash that led to him pulling out of Sunday's giant slalom.
Hirscher, who grew up admiring Raich, heard lots of praise from his hero after his impressive performance.
"We've known for years that Marcel is a great talent but now he is a winner," Raich, the most prolific active skier with 35 World Cup wins, said of his highly promising team mate.
"I was impressed by his attitude in the second leg," Raich added. "Many young skiers in that position would have cracked but he didn't. I don't know where his limits are but he's got a great future, that's for sure." (Editing by Clare Fallon)