Women’s combined preview: aka ‘We’ve got no clue’ | VailDaily.com

Women’s combined preview: aka ‘We’ve got no clue’

BEAVER CREEK — This was going to be the space where we would tell you that Slovenia’s Tina Maze is the prohibitive favorite to win today’s FIS Alpine World Ski Championships women’s combined.

Unlike the men, who have speedsters and tech skiers, and nobody who does both well, the women have a true all-around racer. Maze does all four disciplines, and does them well. In racking up 985 points during the World Cup season for the overall lead, the Slovenian is fourth in the downhill points, fifth in super-G, fifth in giant slalom and third in slalom.

More particularly, in the downhill, the first leg of today’s combined at 10 a.m., the three racers ahead of her in the points, Lindsey Vonn, Anna Fenninger and Viktoria Rebensburg, have no slalom points. Vonn, obviously, has focused on the speed events and not even contested a slalom this year. Rebensburg isn’t racing today.

Both Frida Hansdotter and Mikaela Shiffrin, who are ahead of Maze in the slalom standings, are not competing today.

And though the Championships don’t count toward these standings, Maze has steamed into Beaver Creek, taking silver in the super-G and gold in the downhill.

By every rational analysis, Maze, wearing bib No. 17, should win this.

Wither the weather

However, we got a very graphic illustration on Sunday during the men’s combined of how crazy ski racing can be. Marcel Hirscher was 3.16 seconds back and Ted Ligety (3.03 behind) after the downhill got the good break of skiing first in slalom on an unseasonably warm afternoon, took advantage of what was a firmer track at the time and finished first and third, respectively. Kjetil Jansrud led both of those guys by more than 3 seconds, and barely sloshed into silver.

Slalom is not his strength, but the course, for Jansrud as the 30th racer, was tracked out. In fairness to all those who tend the course at Beaver Creek, it’s not their fault. It’s not meant to be 51 degrees in February. A course crew can prepare for a lot, but not that.

Do we have a repeat of this scenario? Today’s forecast is for a high of 49 degrees at Beaver Creek, according to weather.com. That’s two degrees cooler than Sunday, so that’s not much help. On the other hand, there are just 32 starters today, as opposed to 47 for the men.

Does a racer want to finish 30th today? Can a racer calculate his or her finish to be 30th? No, that certainly wasn’t Hirscher’s game plan. Ligety said he had no shot at a medal after his downhill on Sunday. Both said luck played into their medals, and bad luck played into Jansrud’s as well.

So will it be skill or luck?

The numbers and names

The format: Downhill at 10 a.m. and slalom at 2:15 p.m. Best combined time wins.

The downhill: The women’s downhill starts at 11,283 feet and drops 2,329 feet during 1.52 miles.

The slalom: Again, this is a shorter course than the slalom we’ll see in the tech events. It drops 607 feet during 0.37 miles.

The podium at 2013 Worlds: 1. Maria Hoefl-Riesch (retired); 2. Maze (17); 3. Nicole Hosp (21).

The podium at the 2014 Olympics: 1. Hoefl-Riesch (still retired); 2. Hosp (still wearing 21); 3. Julia Mancuso (18).

Americans: Jacqueline Wiles (3); Laurenne Ross (14); Mancuso (18) and Vonn (19).

Favorite: Yes, It’s singular — Maze (17).

Dark horses: The rest of the field?

The picks: No one had Hirscher for Sunday. Hirscher probably didn’t have himself winning on Sunday after his downhill. We are bound to run into a winner one of these days.

Shauna Farnell, Vail Daily: Mancuso.

Chris Freud, Vail Daily: Maze.

Pat Graham, AP Denver: Maze.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, cfreud@vaildaily.com and @cfreud.