Ligety to defend World Cup lead in Swiss classic

Associated Press
Ted Ligety, of the United States, arrives in the finish area after the second run of a men's World Cup slalom alpine ski event in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012. Ted Ligety placed 14th. (AP Photo/Marco Trovati)
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Ted Ligety, of the United States, arrives in the finish area after the second run of a men's World Cup …

ADELBODEN, Switzerland (AP) — Ted Ligety is quietly having another excellent season in giant slalom. He is the World Cup and world champion in his specialist event, and he leads the discipline standings entering Saturday's classic race.

But it's Austrian breakout star Marcel Hirscher who leads the overall standings after his slalom victory Thursday in Zagreb.

"I'm in a good spot in GS but Hirscher is not far behind and he has been skiing outstanding in everything," Ligety said Friday. "It's hard to see him faltering, and that puts some pressure on him."

Neither racer has finished outside the top six in any of four giant slaloms this season, and each has a victory in the other's home country.

Ligety won the traditional season opener at Soelden, Austria, and Hirscher took the first GS at Beaver Creek, Colo. When Ligety won a second rescheduled race there two days later, the 22-year-old Austrian was second.

"You can't complain about being 50 percent for wins," said Ligety, who has 10 career World Cup victories, though none on the Kuonisbaergli course that hosted a race in the very first week of World Cup racing 45 years ago.

"It's one of the classic hills and I haven't had great success here," said the 27-year-old former Olympic champion, who placed ninth in the 2006 GS at Adelboden.

Ligety led after the first run last year, but that is often a disadvantage on a slope that darkens quickly after the sun disappears behind the mountains as the leaders prepare to race. Ligety's mistake midway down allowed Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway and Cyprien Richard of France to share the victory.

Sunshine is not in Saturday's forecast after days of strong wind, rain and snow.

"It's good that Europe is starting to get snow now, but not when it dumps two feet on the course," Ligety said. "But I heard that the snow is pretty good underneath."

Hirscher earned 100 World Cup points for his Zagreb win and has a 69-point lead on Svindal overall, with Ligety a further 53 back in third. Defending champion Ivica Kostelic is lurking in fourth after a third-place finish on his home Croatian course.

Kostelic won Adelboden's Sunday slalom a year ago during his stunning stretch in January that propelled him to the season's title.

"Last year, Ivica was not in it at this time of the year and all of a sudden he stormed through," said Ligety, who counts himself only "cautiously optimistic" about his overall chances until his slalom results improve.

Ligety speed, however, extends beyond the course. A speeding ticket almost prevented him getting to Zagreb this week. Swiss customs officials stopped him at Zurich airport over an apparent unpaid fine, but let him board at the last minute.

"It was a 150 francs ($157) speeding ticket, but I don't think it's mine," Ligety said. "I didn't drive my car much in Switzerland last year, and they certainly didn't write to me at my home in Park City (Utah)."

Still, he was allowed back in the country with no problems Friday when he landed in Bern.

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