Wengen, Switzerland (AP) – Wearing the No. 51 bib of a total longshot, Swiss skier Niels Hintermann took advantage of the starting order to win a World Cup Alpine combined race on Friday.
Hintermann was 23rd-fastest in the morning slalom, and that proved the key to victory. With the top 30 starting the afternoon downhill in reverse order, he completed his run as falling snow slowed the course for higher-ranked racers.
Hintermann had never before finished in a top 20 in his World Cup career and was unheralded even to fans in ski-crazed Switzerland.
Yet he gave the struggling home men’s team a first win this season by finishing 0.26 seconds ahead of Maxence Muzaton of France. Frederic Berthold of Austria was third, 0.35 behind Hintermann.
All three medalists enjoyed their first top-10 finish in World Cup racing.
“I still can’t believe what happened,” said Hintermann, whose 45,000 Swiss franc ($44,500) prize money increased his career World Cup earnings more than three-fold. “I had lots of luck with the weather. After me (the snow) was increasing.”
Downhill specialists Kjetil Jansrud of Norway and Carlo Janka of Switzerland had later starts and finished several seconds slower, even on a shorter course starting lower on the hill because of persistent snow.
Race organizers at Wengen called it one of their toughest tasks in 30 years to sweep the downhill track three times once snow began falling overnight.
Jansrud, racing about eight minutes after Hintermann, was more than two seconds slower. Janka, a three-time winner in Wengen, including the 2010 Lauberhorn downhill, dropped more than four seconds behind his unheralded teammate’s second run.
Both showed obvious frustration in the finish area, arms stretched wide to show they just couldn’t go any faster.
“There was no chance,” Jansrud, who won the Wengen combined event last year, told The Associated Press.
Jansrud was more upset about delays in letting racers start — allowing snow to accumulate — than the vagaries of the weather.
“It’s a scandal,” Jansrud said, citing 90-second intervals between racers starting and allowing a scheduled break for television commercials. “It’s an outdoor sport and we’ll try again tomorrow.”
World Cup race director Markus Waldner acknowledged it became “a completely different race” in the snow soon after Hintermann finished.
“This is what we have to accept, especially the big stars. They have to respect this young podium,” Waldner said at a post-race meeting of team coaches.
Jansrud will be among the favorites for the classic downhill on Saturday, a race that should attract 30,000 spectators after about 12,000 came on Friday.
Pre-race favorite Alexis Pinturault had been fourth fastest in the slalom, with well over two seconds in hand on Hintermann. He finished 20th, just behind Janka, to ensure topping the combined standings, which consists of only two events this season.
Still, Switzerland’s men got their first World Cup win of a difficult season.
Janka’s runner-up finish in a parallel slalom last month had been the team’s only top-three finish in a season when the Swiss host the world championships in St. Moritz next month.
It is unclear if Hintermann’s quirky victory will earn a spot in the Alpine combined race at the worlds.
“I don’t know,” said the bronze medalist in downhill at the 2015 junior world championships, “I haven’t talked about this yet.”