VIP Snowqueen Trophy
Preview by P. Lang
It's truly a season-highlight for slalom skiers that is being organized this year nearby Zagreb with the two gate-races planned this weekend on the icy slopes of Sljeme situated half an hour from Croatia's capital city.
With a total prize-money of nearly half a millions dollars (465,000.- US $ exactly) given out to the top-30 finishers in both races and an imposing organization budget of 5,6 millions dollars, the "Vip Snowqueen" Trophy set an impressive mark on the present World Cup season.
For the first time, a men's slalom has been added to the women competition which takes places for the fourth time. More than forty thousands spectators are expected to attend the spectacular festivities which also include a "Legends Race" starring true skiing heroes as Sweden's Ingemar Stenmark, Austria's Franz Klammer and Stephan Eberharter, Italy's Alberto Tomba or Austrian-born Marc Girardelli - some of the greatest characters in the World Cup history.
Janica Kostelic, one of the most successful athletes on the women's tour and 3rd here two years ago despites losing his right pole, is also racing in that fun event whose goal is to raise money for a good cause.
The top-favorites of those races are also aiming to score "heavy" World Cup points in order to reinforce their chances to clinch the Overall World Cup trophies handed out in one month in Italy's Bormio.Hosp aims for another win.
In Friday's women night-slalom Nicoles Hosp, the defending Overall Champion, Germany's Marlies Riesch and two-time Zagreb winner Marlies Schild will try to make the best out of the difficult course conditions to score a maximum of points in the absence of USA's Lindsey Vonn, at home at Park City this week for a short break.
Hosp, who shares the lead in the Overall standings with Vonn since the last competitions at Sestriere, already won a slalom this winter. Another strong result on Friday evening would help her to put some distance with the American prior the next downhill at Whistler Mountain where Lindsey aims to capture her fourth downhill race this season.
Yet with five technical events remaining on the calendar, two Super-combined, three downhills and only a single Super-G, Hosp's position seems stronger - as long that she manages to excel in giant slalom and slalom.
Riesch, the only top-champion having competed in all races this winter, is 3rd in the Overall standings with a delay of 102 points only on the two leaders. She surely is more than an outsider since she has been able this winter to reach the top-3 in all disciplines except giant slalom.
With a total of six podiums including her win in Super-G at Cortina d'Ampezzo, the German has been very consistent this season, clearly her best since her debuts on the World Cup tour seven years ago.
In 2004, she was 3rd in the final Overall standings after celebrating three victories in downhill, Super-G and slalom but then she lost her momentum in the following seasons after seriously injuring herself at her knees.
The Bavarian is a clear leader in the Super-G standings which strongly boosts her moral and her determination. "I'm having a great season this winter and I am gaining confidence after each good result," the 23-year-old skier from Garmisch-Partenkirchen said on Sunday at Sestriere after finishing 3rd in the Super-G.A dream came true for Ivica Kostelic.
On the men's circuit, Bode Miller leads the standings ahead of Benjamin Raich and Didier Cuche with twelve races left on the calendar - three in each specialty.
Raich, only once on the podium this year in slalom, and 2nd in combined at Kitzbühel, needs an encouraging result on Sunday afternoon to remain a top contender in the battle for the big Crystal globe.
Unfortunately for him, he has not been dominating the speciality as recent years - in fact, Benjamin, 11th last week at Garmisch-Partenkichen, only won a single slalom race this winter.
Nearly a dozen of top-contenders have the potential to ski faster than him in slalom and prevent him to score big points, including his own team-mates Mario Matt, winner at Adelboden, or Reinfriend Herbst, the winner in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
While France's Jean-Baptiste Grange aims to successfully defends his lead in the slalom standings againts Italy's Manfred Moelgg, again 2nd in Bavaria last week, former World Champion Ivica Kostelic will be fighting hard for what could be his most valuable performance ever.
The Croat, who actually learned to ski with his parents on Sljeme, is particularly motivated by this emotional "Premiere" which he approaches with great confidence after reaching four consecutive podiums in combined and slalom in past weeks.
"It's for sure a dream came true situation for me," he explained recently. "I perfectly remember talking here to my father when I was young about having once a World Cup race taking place on this slope, but of course it seems to be a crazy idea at that moment, in fact everybody around us was laughing about that idea."
"Fortunately Janica started to collect great results and then the idea to have a women slalom was soon up in the air. And here we are with a men's World Cup competition! It will be quite exciting for me, I can't wait to be at the start and go for it. I enjoy competing in big races like this. It's almost as big for me as an Olympic race. I hope to excel as I did at other big races. The course is long and challenging and of course I know each single rut, roll or turn. It could be a very special day for all of us," also said the Croat with the precise and smooth technique.
Source: http://www.snowqueentrophy.com/index.php?link=index&folder=novosti&lang=en&id=78 Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljić
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