Who makes history?: A primer for today’s race
BEAVER CREEK — Whoever wins today etches her name in history.
It’s the Nature Valley Ladies Raptor downhill today at 10:45 a.m. at Beaver Creek, and a racer will get to go down as the first conqueror of the new racecourse.
Trivia time: Can you name the first winner of the Birds of Prey men’s course back in 1997? (It isn’t who you think.)
That’s one of many things that’s fun about today. Not only will someone became an answer to a trivia question, but she’ll have a leg up on the competition for the next women’s downhill here — at the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships. Remember, folks, this is the reason the women’s tour is here this week — this is the trial run for the new Raptor course.
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Race day always different than training
Since we’ve only had training on the racecourse, and race day is always different than practice, we will start to get true feedback on the Raptor. (In the interests of full disclosure, training feedback has been quite positive.)
Is Raptor a all-around downhill like Birds of Prey? Which sections are the hard nuts to crack? Are there strategies to running this course? (Perhaps building speed on the top and being technically proficient enough in the middle? Just a thought.)
Game on, ladies, and the answer to our trivia is Italy’s Kristian Ghedina. (Nope, it wasn’t Hermann Maier.)
What you should know
Here’s the run-though on the women’s downhill:
• Format: Get down the hill in one piece. One run.
• Number of racers: 60
• Weather: Glorious. The website http://www.weather.com says 38 and sunny in Avon, which means about mid-30s at Beaver Creek, and feeling like it’s in the balmy 40s.
• Defending champion: Well, nobody. That would be the point of the day. But your 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships downhill winner was Italy’s Renate Goetschl over in Vail. And your last women’s World Cup downhill winner in Eagle County was Sweden’s Pernilla Wiberg during the 1997 World Cup Finals.
• Downhill stats: The Raptor starts at 11,286 feet and descends to 8,956 feet. The competitors will drop 2,330 feet during the course of 7,700 feet, or 1.458 miles in roughly 1 minute and 41 seconds or so.
• Look out for: Again, we’ll find out, but if Switzerland’s Lara Gut is having a problem with Heckle & Jeckle down toward the finish of the course, that’s probably going to be a trouble spot for everyone.
• Americans (Bib number): Leanne Smith (10); Laurenne Ross (15); Stacey Cook (18); Julia Mancuso (20); Jacqueline Willes (51); and Julia Ford (53). This is Willes’ first World Cup start.
• Favorites: Well, Lara Gut (11), of Switzerland, has been crisper than crisp in training, and she already has one World Cup win under her belt this year. Slovenia’s Tina Maze (22) is the defending overall champ and was ranked No. 2 in downhill last year. (No. 1 was Lindsey Vonn, and she’s obviously not racing this week.) Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch (21) always flies under the radar in North America, and we still don’t understand why. Cook won training on Wednesday and was fourth in the downhill points last winter. Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather (17) has skied well this week and is on that upward career curve at age 24.
• Dark horses: Austria’s Anna Fenninger (19) is always a threat. Italy’s Daniela Merighetti (13) hasn’t been getting much buzz this week. That’s an oversight. Mancuso and Ross are also podium contenders for the home team.
• Media picks: (As always, no wagering.)
Shauna Farnell, former Vail Daily ski-reporting goddess: Gut.
Chris Freud, Vail Daily: Gut.
Pat Graham, AP Denver: Heart says Cook, gut says Gut. (Pat made a funny.)
Massimo Lopes Pegna, La Gazzeta Dello Sport, Milan, Italy: Maze.
Melanie Wong, Vail Daily: Gut.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.