January 19, 2014 / 3:59 PM / 5 years ago

Pinturault boosts French morale ahead of Sochi

Alexis Pinturault of France celebrates after the men's World Cup slalom ski race in Wengen January 19, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

WENGEN, Switzerland (Reuters) - Alexis Pinturault boosted French morale three weeks before the Olympics when he handed his country their first victory in the alpine World Cup this season in the prestigious Wengen slalom on Sunday.

The 22-year-old all-rounder made amends after a poor start to the winter when he fought from seventh in the morning run to beat pre-race favorites Felix Neureuther and Marcel Hirscher in the second leg.

“This is a huge victory because it was not obvious in slalom for me in recent weeks,” said the Frenchman, who had failed to complete three of the four previous World Cup slaloms and had not won in the discipline since December 2012.

Pinturault had indicated his return to form in Friday’s super-combined when he finished second behind American Ted Ligety and won the slalom leg.

“Clearly it gave me a hell of a lot of confidence,” he said after upstaging the three other skiers to have won slaloms this season to secure his fifth career victory.

Germany’s Neureuther was second, 0.34 seconds adrift, and Austrian Hirscher, who led after the first run, had to settle for third after making a mistake second time around.

“When he (Pinturault) skis at 100 percent and doesn’t make any mistake, he is unstoppable,” said World Cup holder Hirscher, who trails Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal by 22 points in the overall standings.

Pinturault’s victory was excellent news for France after losing world champions Marion Rolland and Tessa Worley to injury before the Olympics.

Reporting by Manuele Lang; editing by Justin Palmer

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