By Manuele Lang
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland, March 17 (Reuters) – Felix Neureuther finished the season in style when he won the campaign-ending slalom in Lenzerheide on Sunday and promised closer fights with World Cup winner Marcel Hirscher in the future.
The German avenged his World Cup defeat in the discipline by beating Hirscher by 0.36 seconds, in a combined time of one minute and 52.20 seconds.
The victory, his third this season, was especially sweet for Neureuther, who had to receive injections before the race after suffering with severe back pain.
“I was forced to ski very smoothly not to hurt the back. It was a great, consistent season but I’m glad it’s over because I really need to rest,” the German said.
“I think this season was a step up in my career and I hope this last win is a taste of what to expect next season. I know how hard I need to work to reach Marcel’s level or to beat him. But it’s an exciting prospect,” he added.
Crowned overall World Cup champion for the second year in succession, Hirscher finished the season with 1,535 points, with nearest rival Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway 309 points adrift.
Hirscher also won the slalom globe. He showed amazing consistency in the discipline, winning five races and finishing on the podium in all 10 races he entered.
In the slalom slalom standings, Hirscher beat his German rival and friend Neureuther by 244 points.
“It’s been a great fight and all the more exciting as it was against Felix, who is simply my best friend,” the Austrian said.
Hirscher, the first skier to retain the overall World Cup title since compatriot Stephan Eberharter ten years ago, said he felt less emotion than last year.
“It’s not because I’m blase, but because last year, we had to fight until the very end. It was a very different situation,” he said.
Veteran Croatian Ivica Kostelic was third, 0.51 seconds off the pace, in spite of lingering knee problems.
“Sometimes I wonder if I should receive surgery. It didn’t hurt at all and I am glad to finish on a high note as the two previous seasons had ended in disappointment and pain,” Kostelic said.