Shiffrin the headline act for new season as China hosts first World Cup event

After some big-name retirements, Mikaela Shiffrin is the biggest name left on the slopes as the alpine skiing season gets underway in Soelden

Mikaela Shiffrin is the main attraction as the new alpine skiing season kicks off in Soelden, Austria, on 26 October.

Following the retirement of Olympic champions Marcel Hirscher, Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal, all eyes will be on the double Olympic champion who is chasing her fourth consecutive World Cup overall title.

"It's really sad to see some of these stars leaving the sport," Shiffrin told Olympic Channel.

"There's just a new generation now. You see girls like [Sofia] Goggia, Wendy Holdener, Petra [Vlhova]. There's amazing personalities on the men's side as well. I don't think there's more spotlight on me," the 24-year-old added.

For the first time in its 53-year-old history, the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup will visit China, two years ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

The season will come to an end in March (15-22) with the finals in Cortina, Italy, which will host next year's World Championships.

Mikaela Shiffrin: Snow Queen

The 2018/19 season will be a tough act to follow for double Olympic champion Shiffrin.

It would take some effort to improve on her two golds at the World Championships in Are, 17 World Cup wins from 26 races, a third consecutive World Cup overall title and three discipline globes including first giant slalom and Super-G crowns.

The American also broke Vreni Schneider's record for most World Cup victories in one season and also became the first skier ever to win in all six racing disciplines (including parallel slalom).

In a season without major championships, the Vail-born champion looks almost certain to join Vonn on four World Cup overall crystal globes, two shy of record-holder Annemarie Moser-Proell with six.

She told Olympic Channel, "This season with no World Championships is sort of an off-season in a sense, but for me it's actually a really good opportunity to try some new things.

"We have maybe some speed races and maybe I'll have a little time to do some extra training and maybe even more races so it's an opportunity to try new things and kind of explore my limits with racing and what I'm really able to do."

Shiffrin already has 60 career World Cup wins to her name, including a women's record 40 slalom triumphs, and should overtake Proell (62) and Hirscher (67) this season.

With over 43 events on the calendar, she is very likely to close in on Vonn (82) and Ingemar Stenmark's all-time record of 86.

Tina Maze's season points record is also in her sights: last year Shiffrin scored 2,184 points, not too far away from the Slovenian's total of 2,414 from 2013.

The threats to Shiffrin's dominance

Shiffrin's main adversary in the technical disciplines last season was Petra Vlhova.

The Slovak skier had a breakout season, winning five World Cup races and her first three individual medals at the World Championships.

The highlight came in the giant slalom where she took gold with Shiffrin only third.

Vlhova finished second to Shiffrin in the World Cup slalom and giant slalom standings as well as the World Cup overall, and the 24-year-old will be hoping to make it a true rivalry for the years ahead.

Wendy Holdener split Shiffrin and Vlhova in the World Championship slalom and is approaching the peak of her powers.

The 26-year-old Swiss has been on the podium 22 times in World Cup slaloms but is yet to make it to the top steps.

Her three career World Cup wins have come in alpine combined (two) and parallel slalom and she edged out Vlhova to retain her alpine combined world title in Are last February.

2019 Worlds alpine combined podium (L-R): runner-up Petra Vlhova, winner Wendy Holdener, third-placed Ragnhild Mowinckel
2019 Worlds alpine combined podium (L-R): runner-up Petra Vlhova, winner Wendy Holdener, third-placed Ragnhild Mowinckel2019 Worlds alpine combined podium (L-R): runner-up Petra Vlhova, winner Wendy Holdener, third-placed Ragnhild Mowinckel

Shiffrin's wish to contest more speed races places her on a collision course with Olympic downhill champ Sofia Goggia.

The Italian missed much of last season with a broken ankle but notched up three podium finishes in seven races, including victory in the Crans-Montana downhill, and won Super-G silver behind the American at the World Championships.

Another skier who made a successful comeback from injury last term was Ilka Stuhec.

The Slovenian speed ace missed PyeongChang 2018 after rupturing her anterior cruciate knee ligament.

She returned to action last season and claimed two wins in 24 hours in Val Gardena before retaining her world downhill title in Are.

Hirscher's vacant throne

After a record eight consecutive World Cup overall titles, Marcel Hirscher announced his retirement at the age of 30.

Who will take his throne?

The main candidates are Alexis Pinturault and Henrik Kristoffersen.

Frenchman Pinturault was second overall last season and is cemented his claim to be the best all-rounder on the circuit with alpine combined gold at the World Championships.

The 28-year-old finished third and fourth respectively in the World Cup giant slalom and slalom rankings and claimed the combined globe.

"I am automatically one of the favourites," Pinturault told Agence France Presse.

"I have no new ambitions, because whether or not he [Marcel Hirscher] is there, my ambitions are the same. It was very clear that I was always trying to improve in order to get closer to the big globe, to the general, but also to the classification by discipline."

Alexis Pinturault with his giant slalom bronze and alpine combined gold at the 2019 World Championships in Are, Sweden
Alexis Pinturault with his giant slalom bronze and alpine combined gold at the 2019 World Championships in Are, SwedenAlexis Pinturault with his giant slalom bronze and alpine combined gold at the 2019 World Championships in Are, Sweden

Kristoffersen has been Hirscher's main rival in the technical disciplines in recent years, finishing second twice and third in the overall season standings.

Originally a slalom specialist, the Norwegian has recently established himself as one of the strongest skiers in giant slalom and claimed his first global title in that discipline in Are.

While there are 25 technical races to 18 speed events this season, the likes of Dominik Paris of Italy, Austria's Vincent Kriechmayr of Austria and Norway's 'Attacking Vikings' Kjetil Jansrud and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde are also contenders.

"All of us are capable of doing this, it's just a matter of grabbing this opportunity. Now it's all open since Hirscher is not there," Kilde told Olympic Channel.

"That's always been my biggest goal, trying to win that big globe one day."

Jansrud pipped Aksel Lund Svindal in Are to add the world downhill title to his Olympic Super-G gold from Sochi 2014, and will hope to improve on his World Cup overall seconds from 2015 and 2017.

New blood

As well as the established names, a group of young skiers are ready to build on breakout seasons in 2018/2019.

France's Clement Noel finished second to Hirscher in the World Cup slalom standings, claiming three wins and one second place.

At 1.91m, the 22-year-old is unusually tall for a technical skier and looks set to duel with Kristoffersen for the slalom crystal globe.

Swiss sensation Marco Odermatt, who won five golds at the 2018 World Junior Championships in Davos, showed he can be a force in the senior ranks with two giant slalom podiums finishes at the end of last season.

Also 22, Odermatt was 10th in the World Championship giant slalom in Are and can continue his steady rise this term.

Odermatt beat River Radamus, the three-time Youth Olympic gold medallist from Lillehammer 2016, to take one of his total of six world junior golds and the American is also making his way up the ladder.

The 21-year-old from Colorado scored his first World Cup points last season and can stake his claim to succeed Bode Miller and Ted Ligety, now in the twilight of his career, as the leader of the American men's team.

Radamus told the FIS website, "I’m going to continue to focus on establishing myself on the World Cup tech tour, and in the meantime continue to gain experience on the speed side at events."

Teenager Alice Robinson caused a sensation at the World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra, taking second in the giant slalom behind Shiffrin for her first World Cup podium finish.

That performance came weeks after the 17-year-old took giant slalom gold at the junior worlds.

Robinson became New Zealand's youngest Winter Olympian at PyeongChang 2018 at 16 years and 70 days.

"It's like a new era with all these big names gone, it's kind of like a building year because there's not big events that everyone's thinking about," the Kiwi skier told the Olympic Channel.

"I'm kind of running to be top five, top 10 at most races. If I was out of the top 10, I probably wouldn't be too happy."

Alice Robinson takes second in the women's giant slalom at the 2019 World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra
Alice Robinson takes second in the women's giant slalom at the 2019 World Cup Finals in Soldeu, AndorraAlice Robinson takes second in the women's giant slalom at the 2019 World Cup Finals in Soldeu, Andorra

At 23, Nicol Delago is that bit older than Robinson but she gave notice of her talent with second in the Val Gardena downhill.

She also finished sixth in the downhill at the World Championships, missing out on a medal by just 0.13 seconds.

"I'm very happy with my last season, my goal now is to keep growing, be more consistent and deliver my best possible performance in each race", Delago said in an interview with Olympic Channel.

China's debut

For the first time, the best skiers in the world will compete in China.

Yanqing, a city about 75km from Beijing, will stage the men's downhill and Super-G on 15-16 February.

The races will double as test events for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games with the women visiting in 2021.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) has added more races to the calendar, to include more combined events.

In total there will be 46 individual events for the men (including three combined events) and 42 for the women (four combined) across 23 and 22 venues respectively.

The 2019/2020 World Cup calendar includes traditional ski locations like Wengen, Kitzbuhel and Garmisch-Partenkirchen with Italian resorts La Thuile and Sestriere returning to the women's programme.

The 2019/20 FIS World Cup calendar

Men

27 October Soelden (Austria) - Giant Slalom

24 November Levi (Finland) - Slalom

30 November/1 December Lake Louise (Canada) - Downhill, Super-G

6-8 December Beaver Creek (USA) - Downhill, Alpine Combined, Giant Slalom

14-15 December Val d'Isere (France) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

20-21 December Val Gardena (Italy) - Super-G, Downhill

22-23 December Alta Badia (Italy) - Giant Slalom, Parallel Giant Slalom (Night event)

28-29 December Bormio (Italy) - Downhill, Giant Slalom

5 January Zagreb (Croatia) - Slalom (Night event)

8 January Madonna di Campiglio (Italy) - Slalom (Night event)

11-12 January Adelboden (Switzerland) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

17-19 January Wengen (Switzerland) - Alpine Combined, Downhill, Slalom

24-26 January Kitzbuhel (Austria) - Super-G, Downhill, Slalom

28 January Schladming (Austria) - Slalom (Night event)

1-2 February Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) - Downhill, Giant Slalom

8-9 February Chamonix (France) - Slalom, Parallel Giant Slalom

15-16 February Yanqing (China) - Downhill, Super-G (Olympic test events)

22-23 February Yuzawa Naeba (Japan) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

29 February/1 March Hinterstoder (Austria) - Super-G, Alpine Combined

7-8 March Kvitfjell (Norway) - Downhill, Super-G

10 March Stockholm (Sweden) - Parallel Slalom

14-15 March Kranjska Gora (Slovenia) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

18-22 March Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy) - Downhill, Super-G, Parallel Team Event, Giant Slalom, Slalom (World Cup Finals)

Alta Badia hosts the first men's parallel giant slalom of the 2019/20 World Cup season
Alta Badia hosts the first men's parallel giant slalom of the 2019/20 World Cup seasonAlta Badia hosts the first men's parallel giant slalom of the 2019/20 World Cup season

Women

26 October Soelden (Austria) - Giant Slalom

23 November Levi (Finland) - Slalom

30 November/1 December Killington (USA) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

6-8 December Lake Louise (Canada) - Downhill x 2, Super-G

14-15 December St. Moritz (Switzerland) - Super-G, Parallel Slalom

17 December Courchevel (France) - Giant Slalom

21-22 December Val d'Isere (France) - Downhill, Alpine Combined

28-29 December Lienz (Austria) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

4 January Zagreb (Croatia) - Slalom

11-12 January Zauchensee (Austria) - Downhill, Alpine Combined

14 January Flachau (Austria) - Slalom (Night event)

18-19 January Sestriere (Italy) - Giant Slalom, Parallel Slalom

25-26 January Bansko (Bulgaria) - Downhill, Super-G

1-2 February Rosa Khutor (Russia) - Downhill, Super-G

8-9 February Garmisch Partenkirchen (Germany) - Downnhill, Super-G

15-16 February Maribor (Slovenia) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

22-23 February Crans Montana (Switzerland) - Downhill, Alpine Combined

29 February-1 March La Thuile (Italy) - Super-G, Alpine Combined

7-8 March Ofterschwang (Germany) - Giant Slalom, Slalom

10 March Stockholm (Sweden) - Parallel Slalom

13-14 March Are (Sweden) - Giant Sallom (Night event), Slalom

18-22 March Cortina d'Ampezzo (Italy) - Downhill, Super-G, Parallel Team event, Slalom, Giant Slalom (World Cup Finals)

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