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Italian Blardone wins Gran Risa giant slalom

Italy's Massimiliano Blardone pours sparkling wine over his head as he celebrates on the podium after winning an alpine ski, men's World Cup giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. Massimiliano Blardone has won the challenging Gran Risa giant slalom Sunday in a combined time of 2 minutes 46.49 seconds. Italy's Massimiliano Blardone pours sparkling wine over his head as he celebrates on the podium after winning an alpine ski, men's World Cup giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. Massimiliano Blardone has won the challenging Gran Risa giant slalom Sunday in a combined time of 2 minutes 46.49 seconds. (AP Photo/Alex Trovati)
By Andrew Dampf
AP Sports Writer / December 18, 2011
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ALTA BADIA, Italy—Massimiliano Blardone won his first World Cup race in two years Sunday, as current giant slalom standouts Ted Ligety and Marcel Hirscher struggled on the challenging Gran Risa course.

Sixth after the opening run, Blardone had a blistering second trip down to finish in a combined time of 2 minutes, 46.49 seconds and claim his third victory in this race, having also won in 2005 and 2009.

"I was just full of adrenaline this morning ever since I woke up," said Blardone, who no longer has a helmet sponsor. "It wasn't easy staying focused these last two years, but I've had a lot of support from the people around me. I made a promise to my pregnant fiancee that I would win today and now we can celebrate."

Austrians Hannes Reichelt and Philipp Schoerghofer finished second and third, 0.35 and 0.57 seconds back.

First-run leader Ligety settled for fourth, 0.58 behind, and Hirscher dropped from second after the opening leg to finish fifth, 0.71 back.

Ligety won two of the three opening GS races this season, with Hirscher taking the other.

"Both of us underperformed today," Ligety said. "Getting fourth is not something I strive for, I'm trying to win the GS races, and especially after the first run where you have the lead like that."

Ligety held a 1.11-second advantage over Blardone after the opening run, and it was difficult to ascertain where he lost so much time in the second leg.

"There's no excuse for losing 1.7 when you're skiing as well as I am and I'm not making huge mistakes," Ligety said. "I'm going to have to see what happened there. It gives me some motivation for the next races."

The 32-year-old Blardone hadn't won since his previous victory here in 2009 and now half of his six career victories have come on the Gran Risa.

Italian great Alberto Tomba holds the record of four victories on the course, which is often called the "holy grail" of giant slalom.

"All the victories are special but this one is extra special coming with the No. 19 bib," Blardone said. "When you start No. 19 and the snow is soft like this you're at a real disadvantage to the earlier starters."

In addition to ending a long run of personal struggles, Blardone's victory also gave the Italian ski team its first win of the season -- among men and women.

While the first-run leaders were still to ski their second legs, Blardone immediately knew he had done something special and celebrated by acting as if his poles were a bow and arrow, shooting one pole off into the air as fans waved Italian flags in approval.

Overall World Cup leader Aksel Lund Svindal finished eighth and Olympic downhill champion Didier Defago placed ninth with the No. 38 bib.

Svindal holds a 56-point lead over Switzerland's Beat Feuz in the overall standings, with Ligety one point further back in third.

In the GS standings, Ligety is 65 points in front of Hirscher.

The Gran Risa's 2002 winner Bode Miller looked set for a top-10 finish but then fell on his right hip midway through his second run. The American got back up in time to make the next gate but lost significant time and finished 16th.

Alexis Pinturault, the 20-year-old Frenchman who has impressed this season, was also posting quick split times but fell midway down and did not finish.

Blardone took home a much-needed winner's prize of $40,500.

A slalom is scheduled for the Gran Risa on Monday.

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