Marcel Hirscher surged back to the top of the overall World Cup standings after securing his third win of the season in the Zagreb floodlit slalom on Thursday.
The 22-year-old Austrian captured the third slalom victory of his career in a combined time of one minute, 51.84 seconds to lead the overall table on 525 points.
Hirscher, who won another slalom in Alta Badia last month and a giant slalom in Beaver Creek earlier in the season, leads Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal by 69 points.
“If he goes on like this he will be hard to beat for the big globe trophy,” overall World Cup champion Ivica Kostelic told reporters.
“He is young, fresh, aggressive, but also consistent. He has no doubts,” added the 32-year-old Croat after finishing third, 0.48 seconds off the pace.
Germany’s Felix Neureuther was second, 0.29 adrift, as he claimed his second podium finish of the season.
Kostelic, who has been second on three occasions on his home piste, must wait another year to achieve his first win in Zagreb.
“It’s hard to appreciate what a tough race this is for me — the stress and the pressure from all these people,” he said. “But it’s one of the highlights of my season.”
In front of 20,000 fans, Hirscher’s task was made more difficult by the mild weather producing a quickly deteriorating piste.
Fastest in the first leg, the Austrian started last in the afternoon on a course seriously damaged by ruts and tricky bumps.
“I didn’t believe for a second that I could win in these circumstances,” he said. “I went at full gas, at times at 110 percent, but that’s the way I ski. My last four starts here were so bad. Three times I didn’t even make it to the finish.”
Hirscher and Kostelic will again be among the favorites next weekend in Adelboden, the Swiss resort where the Croat began his incredible haul of seven wins in a month last season.
TOUR DE SKI
AP, DOBBIACO, ITALY
Defending champion Dario Cologna opened up a potentially decisive lead in the Tour de Ski on Thursday, winning the grueling 35km freestyle pursuit by a large margin over Norwegian rival Petter Northug.
Cologna, a Swiss skier who won the first of his two Tour titles in 2009, finished in 1 hour, 9 minutes, 25.2 seconds on a route that followed an abandoned railroad track from Cortina d’Ampezzo to Dobbiaco.
Northug finished second, 1:15.8 behind, and Alexander Legkov of Russia was third, 1:16.4 behind.
With two stages remaining, Cologna now leads Northug by 1:20.8 in the overall standings, with Legkov third overall, 1:26.4 behind.
“My plan was to ski together with [Northug], but I felt very good and he was a little tired,” Cologna said.
“I’m happy with the advantage now,” he said.
After a rest day yesterday, the Tour moves to Val di Fiemme for the final two stages this weekend.
Today’s eighth stage features men’s 20km and women’s 10km classical mass start races, while the final leg tomorrow includes a grueling climb up Mount Cermis, which is otherwise used as a downhill ski slope.
“There is still hard races in Val di Fiemme. It’s not decided yet, I think,” Cologna said as his mouth curved into a broad smile.
Also, Marit Bjoergen of Norway won her fourth consecutive stage by taking the women’s 15km pursuit, beating Justyna Kowalczyk by two seconds and taking the overall lead from the Pole.
Bjoergen now holds a seven-second lead over Kowalczyk in the overall standings.