Men’s World Cup races tight as Vail event looms large | SummitDaily.com

Men’s World Cup races tight as Vail event looms large

Chris Freud
The Vail Daily

Talk about a crescendo.

The men's World Cup stopped in Wengen, Switzerland, last week and is now in Kitzbuehel, Austria, its two most sacred stops on tour. After that? The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Beaver Creek.

In most years, winning at Wengen or Kitzbuehel can make a season for a racer. This year, it puts your name forward as a favorite for Beaver Creek.

A look at men's races in the five disciplines:

Ligety, who will be defending his title next month, was fifth in Wengen, a good showing, and cause
for optimism.

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Downhill

Remember when Norway's Kjetil Jansrud came into Birds of Prey red-hot and won the downhill? Well, he's still good, leading in the downhill points (339). He hasn't kept up his pace of December, which would have been super-human, but he's been very steady in the DH.

He was second in Val Gardena, Italy, where Steve Nyman won. Jansrud had an off day at Santa Caterina, Italy, in 17th. (Travis Ganong got his first World Cup win there.) Last weekend in Wengen, Jansrud was fifth. (Austria's Hannes Reichelt took the top spot, and we'll get to him soon.)

Italian Dominik Paris is tied for second (232) in the standings, and he's a bit of a sleeper — hasn't won, but is very consistent this season. Switzerland's Beat Feuz is the other half of the tie. He was second in the Wengen downhill, notched the same place during the Birds of Prey DH in December and has three podiums here in all.

After Reichelt (225) in fourth come France's Guillermo Fayed (210), Nyman (209) and Ganong (191).

Jansrud remains the favorite, yet there should be plenty of drama and an American presence.

Super-G

This just in — Jansrud is good. He leads the super-G as well. (Could we please ditch the theme that Jansrud is "coming out of teammate Aksel Lund-Svindal's shadow?" Everyone else is in Kjetil's shadow in speed.)

No. 2 is Reichelt. Watch out for this guy in both the downhill and the super-G. Reichelt wins big races. He returns to Kitzbuehel this week as the defending downhill champion. (Win the Kitzbuehel downhill and you get your name painted on a gondola car. That has to be a fun picture for anyone, much less an Austrian.) He won the Wengen downhill last week.

And he has three super-G wins here, including the last Birds of Prey. Reichelt has 32 career starts at Birds of Prey — invaluable experience. Reichelt winning here should not be as much of a surprise as some will make it.

Paris, again a sleeper, is third in the points.

As far as the red, white and blue, well, Ted Ligety is the defending champion, having won in Schladming, Austria, in 2013. He's been fourth, fifth and 11th in super-Gs here the last three years. On the other hand, he's run only one super-G since Birds of Prey, a DNF in Val Gardena.

We are also on "Andrew Weibrecht Watch." The War Horse finished 10th here at the Birds of Prey super-G in December and has two Olympic medals in the discipline.

Super-combined

Switzerland's Carlo Janka won last week's super-combi in Wengen, and, ergo, he is your discipline leader for the season. Kitzbuehel has the second SC of the season Friday.

Janka's win was his first in four years (injuries). It seems kind of strange that he went through a four-year drought as he won the 2009-10 World Cup championship, as well as the giant slalom Olympic gold that season. That campaign was kick-started by three wins in as many days at Birds of Prey (DH, SG and GS). The only other with three wins in a weekend here is Hermann Maier, good company.

With the caveat that anything can — and usually does — happen in a combined event, Croatia's Ivica Kostelic was third in Wengen. If he stays within range — say, 1 second — after the downhill, he's a serious threat with his slalom skills. Austria's Matthias Meyer was fourth, and we keep waiting for him to break out.

Ligety, who will be defending his title next month, was fifth in Wengen, a good showing, and cause for optimism.

We'll have a clearer picture after Friday's race in Kitzbuehel.

Giant slalom

This may not be popular, but Ligety cannot be considered the favorite. Yes, he is the defending two-time world champion, the defending Olympic champion and has won five of his last six starts here.

But …

Until someone proves otherwise, Austria's Marcel Hirscher is the guy to beat in GS and slalom. If this GS were being held anywhere else but Beaver Creek, we'd give him the gold right now.

Yes, Ted won at Beaver Creek in December, but Hirscher has won all four other giant slaloms this season and took third here in the one race he didn't win. Hirscher leads Ligety in the GS standings, 460-322.

Yes, we unabashedly root for the Americans, but facts are facts.

France's Alexis Pinturault, second here in December, is third with 310 points, followed by Germany's Fritz Dopfer (238), France's Thomas Fanara (192).

A name worth filing away here is Benni Raich, of Austria. Yes, he is likely past the prime of his glorious career, but one more medal — he has 10 at Worlds — is not out of the question. He led after the first run at Birds of Prey in December, only to finish fourth.

Trivia time: Who are the only two racers to compete in the 1999 and 2015 Worlds? Raich and Bode Miller. Speaking of Bode, he trained downhill in Kitzbuehel, finishing 45th. He's scheduled to train again today. Will his back allow him to compete in Beaver Creek? Stay tuned.

Slalom

By all rights, this should be a two-person show. Germany's Felix Neureuther leads Hirscher in the points, 420-376. Hirscher was a DNF, his first in slalom in three years, at Wengen, a result, which accounts for most of this lead.

Dopfer, Italy's Stefano Gross and Norway's Henrik Kristofferson round out the top five.

This is the only event in which the Americans do not have a realistic medal chance, a sign that 2015 Worlds could be quite a show for the local race fans.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at cfreud@vaildaily.com.