The Alpine Skiing World Cup resumes Saturday and Sunday with the traditional opening giants in Sölden (Austria).
The image of a roaring fire in a comfortable chalet, historical events, unchanging sponsors, four presidents for the International Ski Federation (FIS) in 96 years of history: alpine skiing likes to celebrate its traditions and hates to shake up its habits .
And yet, the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced the FIS to a major overhaul of the calendar for the 2020/2021 season: no North American tour for only the second time in its history (after the winter of 1973/74), no combined for the first time since 1977/78, and two consecutive days regularly devoted to the same discipline.
The FIS has announced that it wants to separate as much as possible women from men and specialists from different disciplines to limit interactions between the players of the season (athletes and staff members in particular).
However, some habits remain: the flagship resorts of Wengen and Kitzbühel have retained the right to mix speed and technique, and the World Cup will begin as since 2000 with two giant slaloms (women then men) on the Rettenbach glacier, at 3000 m altitude in the Austrian Tyrol.
Closed in Sölden
Alpine skiing must therefore learn to live with the Covid-19, after the virus spoiled the end of last winter, where the last thirteen starts had been canceled, in particular the finals of Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy), precipitating the surprise coronations of Norwegian Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Italian Federica Brignone.
Cortina, precisely, must welcome the best sliders on the planet from February 8 to 21 for the world championships. A year before the Beijing Olympics, the women’s white circus must also stop in China in February for two mandatory test races, while the boys were unable to make it to Yanqing last February.
While the rate of contamination with the coronavirus has accelerated in the world and especially in Europe in recent weeks, uncertainty looms large for this season which is to end in Lenzerheide in Switzerland (from March 15 to 21).
Skiers will be tested before and during each competition: in the event of contamination, an athlete would obviously be deprived of the race, which could lead to the quarantine of his teammates (if they are in contact), and cause them to miss a start in waiting to be able to test negative.
Each organizer is also free to tighten up the protocol: in Sölden the competition will take place behind closed doors, with fewer journalists and without physical press conferences. The Covid-19 has also succeeded in the feat of making people forget the usual random factor, the weather, while the last beginnings of the seasons had been marked by the lack of snow and bad conditions.
Mikaela Shiffrin package
Faced with this amount of unforeseen potential, Alexis Pinturault, who remains on two consecutive second places in the general classification and a frustrating end of the season ended a breath of Kilde (54 points), is still one of the favorites. The Frenchman, at the top of his game at 29, is expected to compete for the big crystal globe with Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and the other Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, specialist in technical events.
Among women, the American Mikaela Shiffrin, after three consecutive coronations, had given up the fight in February following the death of her father, leaving Federica Brignone to win. Package for Sölden because of a back injury, Shiffrin remains, from his 66 World Cup victories at 25, the overwhelming favorite this season, along with Slovakian Petra Vlhova.