Massimiliano Blardone wins World Cup giant slalom

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By GRAHAM DUNBAR, Associated Press

CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland (AP) — Massimiliano Blardone mastered a fast-deteriorating course Sunday to beat World Cup overall leader Marcel Hirscher in a giant slalom.

Blardone trailed Hirscher by 0.02 seconds after the first leg, then raced through soft, rutted snow to complete the two runs in 2 minutes, 33.77 seconds.

It was the 32-year-old Italian's second win of the season and he celebrated by leaping onto the air-bag fences surrounding the finish area.

"It's another oldie who has won today," Blardone said in Italian after veterans Didier Cuche and Benjamin Raich won super-G races the previous two days.

Hirscher was 0.16 behind in second, and Austrian teammate Hannes Reichelt soared from 11th to finish third, trailing Blardone by 0.82. Ted Ligety of the U.S. was ninth.

Bode Miller sat out his third straight race on the Nationale course to help his left knee heal after minor surgery last week. U.S. teammates Tommy Ford and Tim Jitloff capitalized on early starts in the second leg and finished 19th and 22nd.

By gaining 80 World Cup points, Hirscher extended his lead in the overall and discipline standings with just three weeks of racing to go. He leads by 92 overall from Ivica Kostelic, the defending overall champion from Croatia who is sidelined after knee surgery.

"It's perfect," Hirscher said, despite letting his morning lead slip. "I didn't lose 20 points, I won 80. In GS races, it's very difficult in these soft conditions."

Blardone, Hirscher and Ligety, the defending GS champion, have combined to win all seven races in the discipline this season.

Ligety was 1.29 behind Blardone after being seventh fastest in the morning. His fears of finding tough conditions in the warm afternoon sun proved correct — only four top-10 racers from the first leg held their place in the final top 10.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway had been third but flipped through the air after his right wrist caught a gate. He reported feeling neck pains but no serious injury.

Hirscher built a commanding position in the World Cup standings, with third-placed Beat Feuz of Switzerland failing to qualify for the second run and now trailing by 95 points.

Feuz can regain ground next weekend when three speed races are scheduled at Kvitfjell, Norway, while technical specialist Hirscher stays home to train on the World Cup finals course at Schladming.

Hirscher leads Ligety by 132 points in the GS standings with two races left. The American has won the title three of the past four seasons.

Blardone is third, 187 back, having added victory on a hill where he skied during childhood vacations to his win at Alta Badia, Italy, in December. His seventh career World Cup win came after days of dedicated training on soft snow.

"I'm good at checking the weather forecasts," Blardone said. "I came here and was completely at home with the conditions."

Cuche and Raich stood eighth and sixth after the first run but could not find speed on the slushy surface. In his final home World Cup race before retiring, Cuche finished 15th. In the finish area, 13,000 spectators chanted his name.

"I'm a bit disappointed," said the 37-year-old Swiss star, who blew kisses to the grandstands. "I wanted to give them a better result."

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