Sunday, March 8, 2015

2015 Alpine Skiing World Cup title battles: overall, giant slalom, and slalom

Next weekend there will be the second-last World Cup races of the season in technical disciplines. Women will race on Friday and Saturday in Åre and men will race on Saturday and Sunday in Kranjska Gora. In my previous post, I wrote about the speed disciplines' World Cup title battles, now I write about the technical disciplines' title battles as well as about the overall World Cup.

Men's overall

Kjetil Jansrud reduced Marcel Hirscher's lead from 188 points to 52 points in the speed events of Kvitfjell but that is too little too late. Hirscher is the big favorite for Saturday's giant slalom and can also win Sunday's slalom. While Jansrud does giant slalom, he will probably score only small points, and the gap can be after Kranjska Gora even bigger than before Kvitfjell.

The battle for the third place is more interesting. Alexis Pinturault is 17 points ahead of Dominik Paris and 20 points ahead of Felix Neureuther. Paris is in the worst position of these as he doesn't race in Kranjska Gora. I fancy Neureuther's chances to finish the season on overall third place. He has recently been on Pinturault's level in giant slalom and his slalom is very strong. Pinturault does slalom and super-G besides giant slalom but he seems unable to score high enough points in those disciplines to match Neureuther's slalom points. Paris's chance for third place would be to have excellent final downhill and super-G races in Méribel and he would need mediocre races from Pinturault and Neureuther.

Men's slalom

I think men's slalom has the most interesting title battle of technical disciplines in either gender. The last two years' runner-up Neureuther leads the last two years' champion Hirscher by 66 points. Neureuther has been having a solid slalom season, only one retirement and otherwise always on podium, winning two races. Hirscher has been more inconsistent. Two wins but also a retirement and two other missed podiums. And we saw that inconsistency also at the World Championships where he ran out in the second run after being fastest in the first run.

66 points is a good lead but this title battle may still be far from over. I think Hirscher is the fastest slalom skier. Despite the inconsistent results this season, I could see him even winning the remaining two slaloms. And in that case, two third places wouldn't be enough for Neureuther. On the other hand, Neureuther can secure the slalom title in Kranjska Gora by scoring 35 points more than Hirscher. I think this will come to whether Neureuther can perform up to his potential. If he can, then the title should be his. If he can't, then Hirscher will get a chance for the title. And the overall standings may play a role here. If Hirscher needs a safe result for the overall, he may not be able to threaten Neureuther then. A third place in Kranjska Gora wouldn't be enough for Hirscher to take the title decision to the final race if Neureuther wins.

Men's giant slalom

Men's giant slalom title is almost secure for Hirscher already. All he needs is 12 points if currently second-placed Ligety won the remaining two races. A top 19 result in Kranjska Gora secures the title for Hirscher.

Women's overall

The gap between Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger remained in 44 points as they both had a second and a third place in the speed events of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. So, it seems like speed events won't make a big difference between them but the technical events next weekend in Åre and in the Finals in Méribel may make. Maze's former parade discipline giant slalom has been her worst discipline this season. She won a giant slalom in next weekend's venue Åre in December but after that her best giant slalom result has been the fifth place at the World Championships. Meanwhile Fenninger has been in a great giant slalom form in the last races. She was second after Christmas in Kühtai, won the World Championship giant slalom, and after the Worlds, she won the latest World Cup giant slalom in Maribor. To offset the deficit to Fenninger in giant slalom, Maze may need podium finishes in slalom. She has three podium results from this season's seven World Cup slaloms. But she failed to finish in the latest slalom in Maribor and she was only eighth in the World Championship slalom.

Looking at the latest races, it seems like Fenninger will overtake Maze in the standings, Maze hasn't been in her best form. But if Maze can bring her best in the remaining races, then I think doing all four disciplines should win the title for her.

The third-place battle is between two Americans, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. In the speed races of Garmisch, Vonn turned a deficit of 44 points into a lead of 92 points. Now the technical events of Åre provide Shiffrin a chance to overtake Vonn. Even if Vonn did giant slalom, Shiffrin is still almost likely to overtake Vonn next weekend. Including the World Championships, Shiffrin has won four of her five last slalom races and finished one on third place. In her weaker discipline, she has won one race this season and her worst giant slalom result of the season was a tenth place in Åre in December.

Women's giant slalom

The defending champion Anna Fenninger leads Eva-Maria Brem by 46 points. Brem started the season well with three podium finishes, including a win in Aspen. But her recent results don't seem like she could challenge Fenninger for the title. Fenninger has been in a great form, a win and a second pace from the last two World Cup giant slaloms and a win at the World Championships. Mikaela Shiffrin scored her first giant slalom win this season but she is 71 points behind Fenninger, which is probably too much for her to catch.

Fenninger can secure the giant slalom title already in Åre by scoring 55 points more than Brem and 30 points more than Shiffrin. If Fenninger won, Brem would need a top 4 result and Shiffrin a second place to stay in contention for the title.

Women's slalom

In women's slalom, the two-time defending champion Shiffrin is leading the standings. Her closest rival is last year's runner-up Frida Hansdotter 30 points behind. I trust in Shiffrin here. Hansdotter is a great slalom skier but Shiffrin is just better. But Shiffrin still needs strong performances to win the title. If she had to retire and Hansdotter won, Hansdotter would suddenly have a 70-point lead and need only a top 8 result in the final race. And this hasn't been a flawless season for Shiffrin, she needed four races to win or even make the podium in slalom. Since then she's been great, though. Always on podium, winning all but one race.

To secure the slalom title in Åre, Shiffrin would need 71 points more than Hansdotter. If Shiffrin won, then Hansdotter would need a top 8 result to stay in contention for the title.

Speed disciplines

In speed disciplines, the first crystal globe is already decided as Jansrud won the Kvitfjell super-G and extended his points lead over second-placed Paris to over hundred points. In downhill he wasn't able to secure the title in Kvitfjell though. The winner of the Kvitfjell downhill, Hannes Reichelt, reduced the gap to 20 points before the final downhill.

In women's speed disciplines, Vonn leads both downhill and super-G standings. Fenninger reduced her downhill points lead to 35 points whereas in the super-G standings Vonn overtook Fenninger to lead by eight points.

I will write more about the speed disciplines standings before the World Cup Finals in Méribel.

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