The leaves are just starting to fall across the U.S. but World Cup racing isn’t waiting as the competitive season is set to kick off next weekend (Oct. 22-23) with women’s and men’s giant slalom races in Soelden, Austria.
The team of three women selected to represent the U.S. has already made its way to Austria to get a few runs on the Rettenbach glacier ahead of their race next Saturday. World Cup veterans Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Sarah Schleper will get things started, hoping to build on some promising GS results from last season.
“We just brought athletes that are able to be top-10, top-five or podium skiers, that is the goal,” said U.S. Women’s Alpine head coach Alex Hoedlmoser. “We’ll let the younger girls continue to train for the bulk of the season without too much travel time.”
Hoedlmoser is confident his squad of experienced racers is ready for their return to the big show.
“The prep period was really good this year, we had excellent conditions in New Zealand and Chile. The girls are prepared, they have been testing a lot of equipment working on the setups with the skis and boots,” continues Hoedlmoser. “I think we made pretty good progress and the girls are skiing well so we just need to bring the speed and go out there and present our selves with confidence. It’s always a little bit difficult going into the first race because everybody is a little bit nervous and nobody really knows where we are in relation to the other teams.”
Three-time World Cup overall champion Vonn echoed her coach’s feeling of anticipation for the new season. “Soelden is one of the toughest giant slalom hills we race all season, it’s definitely the steepest hill and also pretty intimidating, especially being the first race of the season and having it be so difficult,” said Vonn. “It always makes me a little bit nervous in the starting gate.”
Vonn will look to build on the momentum she gained last season when she secured her first career World Cup GS podium finish (third in Spindleruv Mlyn), adding the final missing piece to her collection of 79 top-three results in other disciplines.
“Spindleruv was a huge breakthrough for me to finally get my first podium in giant slalom and was definitly a big step. I have a lot more confidence in myself now and I know that I can be in the top three,” said Vonn. “I’ve been training a lot of GS this summer, in New Zealand I focused heavily on GS and slalom and I feel like I am skiing really well right now so hopefully I can carry over my confidence from last season into this season. It will help a lot that I’m starting in the top 15, starting numbers are so important in GS.”
Mancuso, who recorded a second-place finish in Soelden in 2007, is coming off her best season in three years with goals to continue the climb in 2012 starting next weekend.
“I like the course, when I’m skiing well it’s a good spot for me,” said Mancuso. “I think this year, just building off of my results last year in GS, I’ll be looking forward to the race. It’s kind of one of those cool races where if you do well you can really feed off it and if you don’t do so well you can kind of forget about it and just look forward to the rest of the season. It’s a cool place to go test everything out and get the first race out of the way.”
For Mancuso, who spends most of the off season in Hawaii, the change of gears provides a reminder of what ski racing is all about.
“Austria is a great ski country, after a long summer of kincking back and training in Maui, where no body really knows what ski racing is, I get over here and there are little girls asking for your autograph in the grocery store,” said Mancuso. “You are reminded that skiing is kind of a big deal in Europe and a cool job and kind of brings back the race jitters and the feeling of being an athlete and role model.”
Schleper opted to return to dry-land training during the team’s trip to Chile but flew to Europe early to tune up for the opening of the competitive season.
“With [Schleper] and her experience, we need to make sure that she gets quality training and she doesn’t need all that volume that the young ones need,” said Hoedlmoser. “She knows what she needs and when her body needs rest and that was the reason we skipped Chile for her. She showed some really strong skiing in New Zealand and that was very promising. She is a veteran, she knows what it takes to get back on the podium and she seems very motivated and determined and ready to really kick out a good season.”
Be sure to check SkiRacing.com often next week as we will be posting all the latest breaking news from the World Cup kick off events and races live from Soelden.
Images: Lindsey Vonn (top) and Julia Mancuso train for the 2012 season in Chile. By Jonathan Slekowitz.