Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 Alpine Skiing World Cup title battles: Finals in Méribel

The Alpine Skiing World Cup will finish with the Finals in Méribel. The final downhills will be on Wednesday and the super-Gs on Thursday. On Friday there will be a team event. The final technical races will be in the weekend; men will have the giant slalom on Saturday and the slalom on Sunday, women will have the races in those disciplines in the opposite order.


Men's overall

The men's overall title seems pretty secure for Marcel Hirscher as he has a 164-point lead over Kjetil Jansrud. Jansrud could take the World Cup lead after the speed races with a win and a second place but Hirscher should secure the title with routine performances in the technical disciplines, if Jansrud even overtook him in points in the speed races.

The battle for the third place seemed interesting two weeks ago with two races in each discipline remaining; five men were within 83 points. Now before the final races, those five men are within 207 points. Alexis Pinturault is on the third place, 82 points ahead of fourth-placed Felix Neureuther. Dominik Paris is on the fifth place 153 points behind Pinturault, which is probably too much even if he won both speed races and scored 200 points there. It already seemed before Kranjska Gora that Neureuther is on Pinturault's level in giant slalom and that he can score more points in slalom than Pinturault in slalom and super-G combined. That's why he was my pick for the third place. But Neureuther wasn't very good in Kranjska Gora whereas Pinturault had a very good weekend, his first giant slalom win of the season and his second-best slalom result of the season, a seventh place. He can also succeed in super-G so right now he seems to be on the way to the third place in the overall World Cup like last season.

Men's downhill

After Kjetil Jansrud's win in Kitzbühel, Hannes Reichelt has caught him by 194 points in the last three downhill races and is now only 20 points behind. Third consecutive downhill win would give him the title as he would finish with at least equal points with Jansrud and have one more win. In other scenarios ending with a tie, Jansrud would get the title as he has more second or fourth places.

Jansrud's best result from last three downhills is a seventh place (36 points) in the last downhill in Kvitfjell whereas Reichelt's worst result from last three downhills is a third place (60 points) in Saalbach. So, Reichelt can well deny Jansrud from finishing the season on the top of the downhill standings he's lead all season long.

But let's not write Jansrud off. A super-G win in Kvitfjell shows his form is still there. If he can bring his best to the final downhill, Reichelt will have trouble to beat him. And warm spring weather may make it hard to finish high in the results. Let's remember the 2011 final downhill where the title contenders Cuche and Walchhofer finished on 4th and 11th positions. The lower Reichelt finishes, the more skiers he needs ahead of Jansrud to gain 21 points on him.

Men's super-G

Jansrud secured this title already in Kvitfjell. And also other top 3 positions seem quite secure. Second-placed Dominik Paris is 79 points ahead of third-placed Matthias Mayer who is 67 points ahead of fourth-placed Hannes Reichelt.

Men's giant slalom

Marcel Hirscher secured the giant slalom World Cup title in Kranjska Gora but the second place is open. Alexis Pinturault is leading last year's champion Ted Ligety by 33 points. This can still go either way; while Ligety has been having a poor World Cup season by his standards, his World Championship gold was proof of his great skills. If Ligety had a good race or Pinturault a bad one, then 33 points can be caught. But in the last giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Pinturault took an impressive win and Ligety has had only fourth places in the two races after the Worlds. So I expect Pinturault to keep the second place in the giant slalom standings.

Men's slalom

Felix Neureuther had a weak race in Kranjska Gora, a ninth place, and he couldn't secure the slalom title. His title rival Marcel Hirscher had a huge mistake in his first run but was still able to finish sixth, catching Neureuther by 11 points. Neureuther's lead is now 55 points and he'd need a top 4 finish if Hirscher won. He's missed the top 4 only twice this season but worryingly Kranjska Gora was the other of them. On the other hand, if he didn't score any points, Hirscher would still need to finish on podium, what he hasn't done after the Kitzbühel slalom almost two months ago. The good thing for Hirscher is that he'll probably have secured the overall title before the final slalom so he can take risks to win the race.


Women's overall

Anna Fenninger overtook Tina Maze in the overall standings in the weekend of Åre and she leads by 30 points. Maze's task to take the lead back in the Finals seems very hard. She is behind Fenninger in all disciplines but slalom and the 15th place of the last slalom would give no points at the Finals where only fifteen best get points.

Speed disciplines have recently been Maze's strongest disciplines and they may be a chance for her to catch and overtake Fenninger. But Fenninger is so strong in speed disciplines that it is equally possible Fenninger will further expand her lead. Giant slalom is the discipline where Fenninger has the biggest advantage over Maze and it will be hard for Maze to make up the deficit in slalom where she hasn't been on podium since mid-January. To win the title, Maze needs perfect races and probably also poor results from Fenninger. Given it's been Fenninger with great results and Maze with poor results, Fenninger seems to be on the way to the overall World Cup title.

Mikaela Shiffrin is on the third place, 58 points ahead of Lindsey Vonn. Vonn will probably overtake her after the speed races but looking at the previous races, Shiffrin will probably score well over 100 points in the technical disciplines, maybe over 150. So, to finish the overall standings on third place, Vonn may need to win both speed races, what she may also need for the titles in those disciplines.

Women's downhill

Anna Fenninger caught Lindsey Vonn by 44 points in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and is now 35 points behind. Including the World Championships, Fenninger has now three second places in a row in downhill whereas Vonn's best downhill result from that period is a fifth place at the Worlds. Now Vonn needs a strong performance to keep her points lead. Fifth place is enough if Fenninger is again second. If Fenninger wins, Vonn needs to be second. Tina Maze has a very slim chance for the title. She is 96 points behind Vonn and 61 behind Fenninger. To win the title, she would have to win and Vonn would have to miss the top 15 as well as Fenninger would have to miss the top 6. So that is a very unlikely scenario.

I still trust in Vonn here, she is the best downhill skier on women's side. In the second Garmisch race, the super-G, Vonn won and Fenninger was only third, even though super-G should be Vonn's weaker and Fenninger's better discipline. I expect yet another solid performance by Fenninger in the final downhill but Vonn has the capabilities to do what is needed for the title.

Women's super-G

Vonn regained the super-G points lead from Fenninger in Garmisch, one week after having lost it in Bansko. But with a minimal gap of eight points, this is getting to be a one-race shootout for the title. By beating Vonn, Fenninger would be close to taking the lead in the final race, a podium finish would surely be enough in that case.

While I rate Vonn above Fenninger as a super-G skier, Fenninger is closer to her in super-G than in downhill and she's been in a great form recently. But I really can't choose the title favorite here.

Women's slalom

Mikaela Shiffrin leads the slalom standings by 90 points to Frida Hansdotter. Hansdotter's only chance is to win the final race and Shiffrin would have to miss the top 15. That is quite unlikely a scenario; Shiffrin has won the last two World Cup slaloms plus the World Championship slalom and hasn't missed the top 15 all season long. Hansdotter has only one win and only one of her second places was a loss to Shiffrin; that was at the World Championships.

Women's giant slalom

Anna Fenninger leads the giant slalom standings to Eva-Maria Brem by 86 points. The situation is quite the same as in slalom. Brem's only chance is to win the final race and Fenninger would have to miss the top 15. Also, Fenninger's recent giant slalom record reminds of Shiffrin in slalom, she's won the last two World Cup giant slaloms plus the World Championship giant slalom and hasn't missed the top 15 all season long. And just like Hansdotter in slalom, Brem has only one win in giant slalom, so the scenario of her winning the giant slalom title is very unlikely.

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