By Patrick Lang
ALTA BADIA, Italy (Reuters) - Ted Ligety outclassed his rivals again with a comfortable victory in the classic Italian giant slalom of Alta Badia on Sunday.
The world champion won his third giant slalom of the season in a combined time of two minutes and 37.27 seconds, 2.04 ahead of Austrian Marcel Hirscher.
While the gap was not as emphatic as Ligety's 2.75-second margin of victory in October's season opener in Soelden, it required a great second run by overall World Cup champion Hirscher to limit the damage.
Third-placed Frenchman Thomas Fanara trailed Ligety by 3.27 while German Fritz Dopfer was fourth, 4.22 off the pace.
The record margin of victory in a men's World Cup race stands at 4.06 seconds by Ingemar Stenmark in 1978 and Ligety, who also won in Alta Badia two years ago, has drawn comparisons with the Swede considered to be the best giant slalom specialist ever.
Ligety, who led by an impressive 2.40 after the first leg, conceded the shadow of Stenmark had weighed heavily on his performance in the afternoon.
"It's crazy. I was amazed, I couldn't understand leading by such a margin after the first run," the 28-year-old told reporters.
"In the second, I must admit I had the Stenmark record at the back of my mind. I wanted to ski aggressive but at the same time, I wanted to win the race," he said.
Two big mistakes, which could have been costly, warned the American against trying too hard and he secured victory in the final section.
Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal was a solid ninth, 4.86 behind Ligety, whom he leads by 106 points in the overall World Cup standings.
However, Ligety does not believe he is strong enough in slalom or super-G to mount a real challenge to the Norwegian for the big globe.
"I don't have a true chance because I need to raise my level in a lot of other events. I hope my GS (giant slalom) form will help me go ahead in slalom and find my best form like in the old days," Ligety said.
With 14 giant slalom victories, the skier from Park City has joined Austrians Benni Raich and Hermann Maier as the fourth most successful specialist of all time and is one win behind Italy's Alberto Tomba. Stenmark notched an incredible 46 top spots in the discipline.
Hirscher, with six podium places including a win this season, said he had to be contented with his runner-up place behind an exceptional Ligety.
"I really skied at my limits in the second run but there was no catching Ted. He's on another planet and I asked him after the first run which line he'd taken, for it was just unbelievable," Hirscher said.
"In any case it's a great battle with Ted in the GS and with Aksel overall and I'm having great fun."
The men's circuit stays in Italy for a floodlit slalom in Madonna di Campiglio on Tuesday, the last race before Christmas.
(Editing By Alison Wildey)