This weekend of the 10th and 11th of February, the Avet course in Soldeu will bring together the best skiers in the world where they will dispute two races on the Alpine Ski World Cup circuit in the final stretch of the 2024 season. Specifically, the Giant Slalom (GS) on Saturday and the Slalom (SL) on Sunday will see 96 athletes from 24 different countries competing.
The countries with the most athletes are Italy (14), Austria (12), Switzerland (11), France (8), Sweden (8), Norway (7), Canada (6) and the United States (5). There will also be participation from Germany and Slovenia, each with three racers, and two from Croatia, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic and Andorra. The countries with only one participant are Albania, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Latvia, Liechtenstein, New Zealand and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The World Cup races that Grandvalira are hosting this weekend will be the last major litmus test for the candidacy for the World Ski Championships 2029. So, the International Ski Federation (FIS) will have the opportunity to once again assess the tremendous organisational capacity that the resort has demonstrated at each World Cup sporting event. This is with a view to the pending decision which will be taken next June to decide on the host venue for the World Championships in 2029.
Big opportunity for Lara Gut
One of the top stars this weekend is the Swiss racer Lara Gut-Behrami. She can use the Giant Slalom competition to consolidate her first position in this discipline and wrestle first place in the overall rankings from the best skier in the history of the World Cup, Mikaela Shiffrin (USA). Shiffrin will be the notable absentee in Soldeu this weekend, with her not being able to recover in time from the fall that she had on the 26th of January in Cortina d’Ampezzo (Italy). As things currently stand, the US is in first position in the overall ranking with 1,209 points, but Gut-Behrami has been closing the gap on her and is now only 95 points adrift.
The Swiss racer is having a very strong end to the season, especially in Giant Slalom and Super-G, the disciplines in which she is in first position. If she were to manage to overcome Shiffrin in the overall ranking this season, that would mean her getting her second overall crystal globe. Third in the overall ranking is the Italian racer Federica Brignone, who could also become the season’s best skier in the world for a second time.
On Saturday, the Giant Slalom (GS) will be disputed at 10:30h (first run) and at 13:30h (second run), a speciality where Gut-Behrami currently holds the first position, closely followed by Federica Brignone and Swedish racer Sara Hector.
On Sunday, it will be the turn of the Slalom (SL), also with two runs at 10:30h and 13:30h. Incidentally, neither the first (Shiffrin) nor the second-ranked racers in the discipline are competing, as the Slovak racer Petra Vlhová in second position had to bid farewell to the season after suffering a serious fall two weeks ago. This situation favours the German racer Lena Duerr, who currently sits in third position in the Slalom ranking. She might have the opportunity to win the second Slalom of her career in Soldeu. Slightly further behind are the Swiss racer Michelle Gisin and the Swedish racer Sara Hector.
The events this weekend will see Andorran racers competing with Carla Mijares (21 years old) participation in the Slalom on Sunday. Mijares already made her debut at the Team Parallel at last year’s World Cup Finals in Soldeu. This season, Mijares has already raced in her first Slalom, competing in Flachau (Austria), although she wasn’t able to complete the first run.
The Avet course in immaculate condition
Despite the mild temperatures of the last few days, the Avet course is in perfect condition to host the two technical competitions of the Women's World Cup. This has been possible as a result of the preparatory work that has been carried out since the beginning of the season to ensure the best conditions on the course for racing. The Chief of Race, Santi López, explained that the course is currently in “very good condition. We have everything ready, the protections on the course and at the finish area, the stands, the chrono, the televisions, etc.”
The event will have a total of 265 volunteers, of which 175 will be carrying out tasks inside the course sections. In addition, the competitions will be followed by in situ television broadcasters from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Andorra, as well as being broadcast globally on Eurosport and with audiovisual production by Infront.
For his part, World Cup Managing Director David Hidalgo said that “we are keeping an eye on the weather”, but as of now the course “is set and ready”, and that “the infrastructure, transport and accommodation logistics, as well as the volunteers, are all ready.”
Previous achievements of the favourites
In the Slalom (SL) discipline the best chances of winning are with Lena Duerr, 32 year-old German racer, who currently sits in third position, but neither Shiffrin and Vlhová are competing. Duerr has a modest track record, with only two World Cup victories to her name, plus a bronze from last year’s World Championships and a silver in the Team Parallel in Beijing’22. Last season, she came fourth in Slalom, and was third in 2022.
The next in the ranking is Michelle Gisin (CH), double Olympic champion in Alpine Combined in Pyeongchang and Beijing. If she wins in Soldeu this Saturday, she would be getting her second victory in a World Cup Slalom.
Further down the rankings we find the Swedish racer Sara Hector, who despite being more of a Giant Slalom specialist, also has a chance of doing well in the Slalom. Over the course of her career, she has won five World Cup races and won gold in GS at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
When looking at the Giant Slalom (GS), the favourite is the veteran Lara Gut-Behrami, who could get her first crystal globe in the discipline this season. At the age of 32, she has won 42 World Cup races, got two victories at the 2021 World Championships, and one gold and two bronzes at the Olympics. The Swiss racer is already a familiar face in Soldeu, where last year she achieved her fourth crystal globe in Super-G and was second in the overall ranking. The only season that she was proclaimed overall champion was in 2016, the year in which she was able to compete on the first Super-G World Cup course on the Àliga slope in El Tarter.
In second place in the ranking is Federica Brignone. Over the course of her long career, the 33-year-old Italian has managed 24 victories whilst making the World Cup podium 63 times. She also has three Olympic medals and one victory in the last World Championships. This year, she could win her second crystal globe in the GS discipline if she manages to unseat Gut. The first globe she won was in 2020 in a successful season for her in which she was proclaimed overall winner for the first and only time up to now.
The third favourite in GS is once again Sara Hector who, at the age of 31, could achieve her first crystal globe this year. In the 2022 season, she was knocking on the door and last year she came third in the discipline.