And the World Cup chase begins this weekend
Take a picture of it — if the season stopped today, Ted Ligety and Italy’s Federica Brignone would go home with the overall globes.
OK, we’ve only had one set of races this season — the October giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria. The season begins in earnest this weekend with the ladies doing tech in Aspen and the gents up in Lake Louise, Alberta, for speed races.
So do Ligety and Brignone keep their leads in the Cup standings wire-to-wire? Probably not. Let’s look into that crystal ball.
Here’s the scary thought. Based on last year’s points, the Americans are 1-2 as favorites for the overall. Austria’s Anna Fenninger, who won last year with 1,553 points, hurt her right knee in training and is out for the season.
Slovenia’s Tina Maze, pretty much the only lady out there who was competing in all four disciplines, five if you count the super-combined, is taking the year off. Maze finished second in the points last season with 1,531.
The leading returning point-getter after these two is Lindsey Vonn (1,087, third overall), who raced a limited schedule last season. And Mikaela Shiffrin finished fourth with 1,036 points.
And there’s quite a gulf between last year’s top-four contenders and the rest of the field. The now retired Nicole Hosp, of Austria, took fifth with 684. Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter, a tech skier only, at 679, followed by Austria’s Kathrin Zettel (646). By the way, Zettel and Hosp retired.
This is wide open.
Vonn was essentially a two-discipline skier last year, earning only 45 points in the GS. Of course, she won the downhill and super-G crowns. Her road to the overall, which would be her fifth, is to continue her dominance in the speed events and start picking up points in tech, particularly GS.
Vonn races in giant slalom on Friday at Aspen. She has not indicated whether she will race in either of Aspen’s two slaloms. Vonn doesn’t need to podium in the GS; she just needs to put together two good runs and make the points in the discipline on regular basis.
Shiffrin has raised some eyebrows by entering the Lake Louise super-G weekend after next. That will be her first speed start on the World Cup.
It’s a natural extension of her program so far to do so. Lake Louise is not a corker of a course, so it’s a good place to begin. As much as Shiffrin has a tendency to wow us, hold down the expectations for her in super-G. She competed in two FIS super-G races last season in Copper and finished 15th and 16th.
Shiffrin’s road to an overall right now might be imitating Marcel Hirscher — stomp the GS and slalom. The Austrian could have edged out Kjetil Jansrud on GS and slalom points alone for the overall title.
Shiffrin dominated the slalom with 678 points last season and moved into third in GS. If she can win both of these disciplines this year — Shiffrin was second in the Soelden GS — she might be able to snag the overall.
She’s got a big week ahead in Aspen with the GS and two slaloms, the second being a makeup from Levi. Finland.
Before we cede the women’s overall to either Vonn or Shfifrin, expect Switzerland’s Lara Gut and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather to be in the race as well.
Hirscher is the four-time champ, and he’s the favorite until someone says otherwise. When Birds of Prey rolls around, he will downplay his chances in the press. He will mention how some else is skiing so well he has no chance of winning the overall.
And then he’ll go out and crunch everyone.
Hirscher owns the slalom and took the GS crown from Ted Ligety last season. Ligety only beat Hirscher twice in GS last season and both were at Beaver Creek — the regular Birds of Prey stop and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships.
Ligety won in Soelden with Hircher in third. I still don’t see how Ligety can win the overall without improving his slalom, which in the last few years has been nonexistent.
If there is a challenge to Hirscher, it’s coming from Norway. Jansrud came close as he won the downhill and super-G globes. If he picks up his GS, that may be the way.
We also welcome back Aksel Lund Svindal. He ruptured his Achilles’ tendon before the season started last year. He only competed in two events last year — the Worlds downhill and super-G and finished sixth. It’s not hard to see Svindal back in the overall fight.
Let the racing begin.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.