Today’s super G kicks off World Cup weekend
Today’s women’s World Cup super G race on Aspen Mountain – set for a 10 a.m. start – is going to be a wild ride.
The snow on the course is firm and grippy, Swedish coach Cristian Perner has set a tight technical line down the hill, fully utilizing every bump, roll and curve he could find, and the weather is expected to be sunny but cool.
“It looks like it is going to be absolutely ideal,” said Jim Hancock, chief of race, Thursday.
It’s the first super G race of the World Cup season for the women, and it’s the first time a reverse start order will be used for the top 30 racers, meaning the best super G skier – based on last year’s race results – will run 30th. The second-best skier will run 29th and so on. (For start list, see page A27.)
The back half of the field, starting from 30 to 60, will run the course in order of their previous results.
The top-30 reverse start is a switch from the past when the best performing super G skiers would go first, making it unlikely that anybody starting further back than 15th or so would win.
And the rule change means good things for the American racers today.
The hometown favorite, Aspen’s Katie Monahan, will be starting eighth, which is ideal in a speed event – a fast line will have been set, but the course shouldn’t be rutted out. She’ll also be the first American down the course today and should get the most crowd support.
Monahan, 30, can likely handle the pressure, as she’s been to two Olympics and placed third in a super G in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1999. But she’s also coming back from a series of knee injuries.
“I’ve got my confidence back,” she said earlier this week. “I can finally train at speed and feel comfortable. All the things I’ve been working on are really starting to gel.”
Teammate Jonna Mendes from California will follow in the 10th position.
“I am going for the podium,” Mendes said after checking out the course on Thursday. “I want first, second or third, but my best result so far in super G is 10th.
“So better than a 10th would be a personal best for me. It’s my first race of the year so it’s really hard to know where I stand, and I’m going to shoot for the podium.”
But Mendes knows a top-10 finish is still a huge accomplishment.
“A lot of people don’t see a 10th as being that great, but there are a lot of levels that you have to pass and steps that you have to take to get to this level,” she said. “And these are the best girls in the entire world in ski racing, so it’s an honor to just be racing with all these people.”
And perhaps it’s a good omen that Mendes, who wants to break her personal best of finishing 10th, is starting in the 10th position today.
The reverse start order was also kind to Kirsten Clark of Raymond, Maine, who will be running 22nd. Clark has a good shot at the podium, as she was 11th in the super G standings last year and reached the podium with a third-place finish in a St. Moritz super G in December 2001.
Caroline Lalive of Steamboat, who finished sixth in last year’s World Cup super G rankings, will run 25th today.
In all, the U.S. team has a good opportunity today to impress the skiing world.
“The coaches keep saying, ‘You’ve got to step it up, and now is the time to race,’ so I think everyone is really looking forward to it,” said Lalive. “The snow is in incredible condition, and the hill is technical, which suits myself and a lot of the U.S. team. It’s probably one of the more demanding super G’s” of the year.
Other Americans racing today include Julia Mancusco, starting 33rd, Libby Ludlow, starting 45th, Bryna McCarty, starting 46th, and Lindsey Kildow, starting 52nd.
Each of them will be trying to catch the world’s best skiers.
Current World Cup leader Janica Kostelic of Croatia is coming off a slalom win and a third-place showing in a giant slalom last weekend in Park City, Utah.
She won a silver medal in the super G race at the 2002 Olympics – along with three gold medals – and she won the slalom race here in Aspen in 2000.
Kostelic, who is running 23rd, is ready to race today.
“I think it is a nice course,” Kostelic said Thursday. “It is really interesting to ski. Something is happening all the time.
“This is maybe the best super G course that we have on the World Cup.”
Reigning World Cup overall champion Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria is hoping to repeat her November 2000 super G victory on the Aspen course, but she’s off to a slow start so far this season, placing 12th and 24th in two giant slaloms.
She’s be running 27th.
“It is a very difficult course,” said Dorfmeister after checking out Aspen Mountain. “There are so many bumps, and the shadow and the sun is changing all the time and you go into a part where it is dark. For me, though, I know this course, and I think it will be a very tough race.”
Defending super G champ Hilde Gerg of Germany is clearly a threat, although in 2000 she placed only 36th on the Aspen super G course. She’ll be running 30th.
Her teammate, Martina Ertl, did better here, finishing just off the super G podium in fourth place. She was Germany’s only medal winner in Salt Lake, and her style of skiing fits well with the Aspen Mountain course. And she’s also got a better start time than Gerg, starting in the 20th spot.
Veteran Swiss racer Corinne Rey Bellet is also a contender, as she placed third here in 2000. She’s running 19th.
But then again, virtually the entire Austrian team – the dominant European team in a sport dominated by Europeans – could make the podium today. And the competition between the Austrian racers is intense, as only the top four racers will get to go to the World Championships in St. Moritz in February.
All 60 racers today are in for an adventure. The race course is in excellent condition, and the course that has been set is challenging, especially in Spring Pitch, where the racers will be flung to the skier’s left and then be forced to make a sweeping turn down rolling terrain into the belly of the Pitch.
“It’s going to be really interesting,” Hancock said, noting that for the most part, the terrain on the mountain dictates how the course is set up. “Up in Snow Bowl [Ruthie’s], where it is wider, there is more leeway to change it up.
“But coming into Spring Pitch, down the road, into Strawpile and even into 5th Avenue, it has to follow the natural terrain of the hill.”
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