The penultimate slalom race of the Men's Alpine Skiing World Cup took place in Kranjska Gora. The slalom World Cup leader Henrik Kristoffersen started the race with a lead of 131 points, thus being able to secure the title before the final slalom of St. Moritz if he keeps the lead to his only remaining rival Marcel Hirscher at least at 100 points.
Dominant first run by Hirscher
Germans Fritz Dopfer and Felix Neureuther were the first two starters on the first run. Dopfer set a time 0.12 seconds quicker than Neureuther's, and they were split by the Italian Stefano Gross, 0.02 seconds behind Dopfer.
Starting with the bib No. 6, the slalom World Cup leader Henrik Kristoffersen couldn't beat the times of the still-leading German-Italian trio but went into fourth place, though only 0.17 seconds behind.
Kristoffersen's first run gave some hope for the three-time defending champion Marcel Hirscher's title dream. Not only the Austrian had secured the giant slalom World Cup title on Saturday but also basically secured his fifth overall World Cup title. Free from the pressure of protecting his overall standings lead, Hirscher set a dominant time on the first run and beat the previous leader Dopfer by 0.79 seconds.
One more skier went between Hirscher and Kristoffersen on the first run. Julien Lizeroux from outside the top-seven group of slalom skiers with the bib No. 9 went into second place, 0.75 seconds behind Hirscher.
Kristoffersen climbs to secure the slalom title
The second run was started by Mattias Hargin of Sweden. Making the most of the fresh course, Hargin set the quickest time of the second run and progressed into as high as seventh place of the final results.
Hargin shared the seventh place with another man who made big progress. The USA's David Chodounsky was 17th of the first run; with the fourth-quickest second run he equaled Hargin's time.
The first man to go below Hargin's and Chodounsky's lead time was Alexis Pinturault. The Frenchman was 13th of the first run; however he progressed into sixth place of the final results. Another skier in the top six from outside the first run's top 10 was Marco Schwarz; the Austrian progressed from the first run's 11th place into the final results' fifth place.
Henrik Kristoffersen needed a second place to secure the slalom World Cup title if the first run's leader Marcel Hirscher won the race. Although Kristoffersen was only sixth of the first run, that wasn't an impossible task if he had a good run; the gap to second place was only 0.21 seconds.
Kristoffersen indeed had a great second run; he equaled the second-best second-run time of Schwarz and led the race by 0.46 seconds. Yet it was the following skiers who decided if Kristoffersen could finish inside the top two, or if he even needed it, depending on Hirscher's second run.
Fifth of the first run, Felix Neureuther was going below Kristoffersen's time at the second split, yet soon after that skied out, allowing Kristoffersen to stay in lead. Fourth of the first run, Stefano Gross couldn't match Kristoffersen's second run but went into second place, 0.20 seconds behind. Neither the third of the first run, Fritz Dopfer, could beat Kristoffersen but went into third place, 0.45 seconds behind.
Whether or not Kristoffersen could secure the slalom World Cup title depended on the last two skiers; whether Julien Lizeroux could push him down into second place before the run of Marcel Hirscher who needed a win. The experienced Frenchman Lizeroux's second run got an unfortunate end right after it had started; he straddled the first gate. That meant Henrik Kristoffersen was sure to finish inside the top two of the race and secure his career-first small crystal globe for a World Cup discipline title.
After his great first run, Marcel Hirscher had a lead of 0.96 seconds to Hirscher. Although the dethroned slalom champion couldn't quite match the second run of Kristoffersen, he won the Kranjska Gora slalom race with a massive gap of 0.81 seconds.
Kranjska Gora decided overall World Cup for Hirscher
Hirscher could reduce Kristoffersen's slalom World Cup lead by 20 points to 111 in Kranjska Gora, yet not enough when there's only one race remaining with 100 points available. The 21-year-old Kristoffersen, six-time junior World gold medalist and the 2014 slalom Olympic bronze medalist, achieved now his first major title.
The last three year's slalom champion Hirscher has secured the second place of the slalom World Cup while the third place is still open; Felix Neureuther, Stefano Gross, Fritz Dopfer, and Alexander Khoroshilov are separated by only 37 points.
In the overall World Cup, Hirscher's fifth consecutive title is basically secured. His lead over second-placed Kristoffersen is 353 points. Although there are six races remaining, there are only two technical races where Kristoffersen competes in. Alexis Pinturault is in third place and very unlikely to catch Kristoffersen 198 points ahead. However, Pinturault might get caught be Kjetil Jansrud from 212 points behind. Already next weekend Jansrud can score up to 200 points in the speed races of Kvitfjell before the World Cup Finals in St. Moritz with one race in each of the four disciplines.
Men's World Cup continues on March 12-13 with a downhill and a super-G in Kvitfjell.