Ligety wins World Cup GS opener

By ERIC WILLEMSEN | October 25, 2011 | 1:57 PM EDT

United States' Ted Ligety celebrates after winning an alpine ski, men's giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Ted Ligety got the defense of his World Cup giant slalom title off to a strong start on Sunday by winning the season-opening race on the men's circuit.

It was the American's first win on the Rettenbach glacier and his ninth overall, all in GS.

"Winning in Soelden was a big target," Ligety said. "I have been on the podium here so many times. We have trained a lot on the course, that's definitely an advantage."

Ligety, who is defending his third World Cup GS title this season, maintained his lead from the first run to finish in an aggregate 2 minutes, 22.00 seconds.

Alexis Pinturault of France took second, 0.29 behind Ligety. It was the second podium finish for the 20-year-old Pinturault, who won the world junior title in GS twice.

Austria's Philipp Schoerhofer was 0.51 back in third, while former overall champion Carlo Janka of Switzerland dropped to fourth, trailing Ligety by 0.58.

Bode Miller, Ligety's U.S. teammate, finished ninth, 1.32 off the pace.

Ligety had put himself in contention of the win with a strong start to his opening run.

"I had the top section pretty well figured out and then how to ski the next little pitch," said Ligety. "There is not a lot to this hill but that's definitely a good spot to make up time."

Overall World Cup champion Ivica Kostelic bounced back from a disappointing opening run, which he finished 1.70 behind in 18th, to place fifth.

Austria's Benjamin Raich, who won the overall title in 2006, returned to the circuit after damaging his knee in a crash at the team event during February's world championships in Germisch-Partenkirchen.

"I didn't have a bad feeling," said Raich, who finished 1.76 back in 19th place. "I slowed down on the steep part but that was what I had expected."

Also returning from injuries were Olympic downhill champion Didier Defago of Switzerland, who missed last season after tearing ligaments, and Austria's Marcel Hirscher, who had been out since breaking his left foot a week before the worlds.

Defago skied off course in his second run, but Hirscher geared up to take shared sixth with Thomas Fanara of France.

Canada's Robbie Dixon, who sustained a concussion in a crash in Bormio in December, and Jean-Philippe Roy, who sat out the second half of last season, also returned.

Only Dixon missed out on the second leg after he failed to finish his first run.

Switzerland's Daniel Albrecht was 3.57 off the lead and failed to qualify for the second run in his first race here since winning in 2008, three months before a horrifying crash in the Kitzbuehel downhill ruled him out of World Cup skiing for almost two years.

The men's World Cup circuit continues with a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 13.