Mikaela Shiffrin, after a wave of retirements, ponders her future as World Cup starts

Leave a comment

For so long, Mikaela Shiffrin, a ski racer who makes preparation paramount, has readied for World Cup slaloms and giant slaloms by grabbing a spot in front of a TV in the lodge or team hospitality.

She would watch the broadcast of a men’s World Cup race happening the same day at a different resort. The skier she would most often see winning was Marcel Hirscher, an Austrian who bagged a record eight World Cup overall titles before announcing his retirement on Sept. 4.

“Thirty minutes before I go out for my run, he gives me this inspiration to kind of pull out some athletic skiing and go for it,” said Shiffrin, who like Hirscher starred in the technical events of slalom and GS the last several years. “I’ve had countless races where I remember feeling like, just being able to see him crush it right before I went has given me the last little bit of energy and spark that I kind of needed before I went. I’m definitely going to miss that a lot.”

Shiffrin, if she wasn’t already, is the leading face of her sport following the retirements of Hirscher, Lindsey Vonn and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal since last winter. She is 24, six years younger than Hirscher. Vonn left at 34; Svindal at 36.

She is the favorite for most races she enters, starting with Saturday’s season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

“I don’t know if I’m going to make it until I’m 30, if I’m going to retire before that, if it’s going to be after that,” Shiffrin said. “I probably don’t see myself going well beyond 30, but at the same time, if I’m at that point and I’m still having an absolute blast and sort of still reaching my own standards of skiing, then I’ll keep going.”

That kind of career decision does not appear imminent. Shiffrin is coming off what she called her best season — a record-breaking 17 World Cup wins (in 26 starts), two more world championships gold medals and a third straight World Cup overall title.

This year, if she stays healthy (never a given in her sport), Shiffrin is widely expected to move to No. 3 on the World Cup career wins list (trailing only Vonn and Ingemar Stenmark) and become the first woman to win four straight overall crowns in 45 years.

What could get in her way? For one, the ascension of younger rivals.

Slovakian Petra Vlhova, who beat Shiffrin in consecutive slaloms in 2017, won as many giant slaloms as Shiffrin last season (four, when including the world champs). New Zealand 17-year-old Alice Robinson had the fastest second run in the world championships giant slalom (benefiting from an early start number) and then placed second in the World Cup Finals GS.

“Slalom, [Shiffrin] still holds a little bit of distance there,” NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said. “But in GS, I don’t think there is any sense of domination.”

Then there is a topic that Shiffrin first broached last season and brought up again this week: back soreness.

“With each year, my body is starting to complain to me,” she said in February, according to The Associated Press. “My back has been kind of nagging all season long. It’s something we’ve had to manage.”

Shiffrin has been fortunate in that in nearly a decade of racing World Cups, she hasn’t had any leg injuries serious enough to require major surgery. But that doesn’t hide the toll of mileage from competing (and, more so, training) at the highest level since she was 15.

“I’ve dealt with some back injuries and probably will maybe for the rest of my career a little bit, but that’s also the case for most ski racers,” she said Monday. “So it’s just a little bit like what’s my body going to allow me to do as well. I know I’m only 24, but at the same time I sort of feel like I’m already 24 [laughs], and I feel it.”

Which brings it back to Shiffrin’s calculated preparation and training. Porino said that what he’s most intrigued about this season is what Shiffrin doesn’t do.

With no Olympics or world championships, there are more than 40 World Cup races between Saturday and the end of the season in March. Shiffrin, even as she has picked up more downhills and super-Gs, has never started more than 30 races combined among the Olympics, world championships and World Cup in one campaign.

Is Shiffrin in for her busiest season of racing yet? Where will she be cautious? If she does limit the race schedule, it might make her even more dangerous, because it frees more time for training.

“You simply do not get better by racing in Alpine skiing,” Porino said. “That has to be intimidating. When she doesn’t show up, she’s getting better than you, and she’s already better than you.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 2019-20 Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule

2020 Tour de France standings

1 Comment

2020 Tour de France results for the yellow jersey, green jersey, white jersey and polka-dot jersey …

Overall (Yellow Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 87:20:05
2. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — +:59
3. Richie Porte (AUS) — +3:30
4. Mikel Landa (ESP) — +5:58
5. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — +6:47
7. Tom Dumoulin (NED) — +7:48
8. Rigberto Uran (COL) — +8:02
9. Adam Yates (GBR) — +9:25
10. Damiano Caruso (ITA) — +14:03
13. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — +25:53
15. Sepp Kuss (USA) — +42:20
17. Nairo Quintana (COL) — +1:03:07
29. Thibaut Pinot (FRA) — +1:59:54
36. Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) — +2:19:11
DNF. Egan Bernal (COL)

Sprinters (Green Jersey)
1. Sam Bennett (IRL) — 380 points
2. Peter Sagan (SVK) — 284
3. Matteo Trentin (ITA) — 260
4. Bryan Coquard (FRA) — 181
5. Wout van Aert (BEL) — 174

Climbers (Polka-Dot Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 82 points
2. Richard Carapaz (ECU) — 74
3. Primoz Roglic (SLO) — 67
4. Marc Hirschi (SUI) — 62
5. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) — 51

Young Rider (White Jersey)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) — 87:20:13
2. Enric Mas (ESP) — +6:07
3. Valentin Madouas (FRA) — +1:42:43
4. Dani Martinez (COL) — +1:55:12
5. Lennard Kamna (GER) — +2:15:39

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage | Favorites, Predictions

Tadej Pogacar, Slovenia win Tour de France for the ages

Leave a comment

A Tour de France that almost didn’t happen ended up among the most exciting in the race’s 117-year history.

Tadej Pogacar, a 21-year-old Slovenian, rode into Paris on Sunday as the first man in more than 60 years to pedal in the yellow jersey for the first time on the final day of a Tour.

Let’s get the achievements out of the way: Pogacar is the first Slovenian to win the Tour, finishing with the other overall leaders behind stage winner Sam Bennett on the Champs-Elysees.

“Even if I would come second or last, it wouldn’t matter, it would be still nice to be here,” Pogacar said. “This is just the top of the top. I cannot describe this feeling with the words.”

He is the second-youngest winner in race history, after Henri Cornet in 1904. (Cornet won after the first four finishers were disqualified for unspecified cheating. The 19-year-old Frenchman rode 21 miles with a flat tire during the last stage after spectators reportedly threw nails on the road.)

Pogacar is the first man to win a Tour in his debut since Frenchman Laurent Fignon in 1983.

And he’s part of a historic one-two for Slovenia, a nation with the population of Houston.

Countryman Primoz Roglic, who wore the yellow jersey for nearly two weeks before ceding it after Saturday’s epic time trial, embraced Pogacar after a tearful defeat Saturday and again during Sunday’s stage.

Tasmanian Richie Porte, who moved from fourth place to third on Saturday, made his first Tour podium in his 10th start, a record according to ProCyclingStats.com. The age range on the Paris gloaming podium — more than 13 years — is reportedly the largest in Tour history.

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage

Three men on a Tour de France podium in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, each for the first time. Hasn’t been done since 2007, arguably the first Tour of a new era.

This Tour feels similarly guard-changing.

It barely got off, delayed two months by the coronavirus pandemic. Two days before the start, France’s prime minister said the virus was “gaining ground” in the nation and announced new “red zones” in the country, including parts of the Tour route.

Testing protocols meant that if any team had two members (cyclists or staff) test positive before the start or on either rest day, the whole team would be thrown out.

It never came to that. Yet the Tour finishes without 2019 champion, Colombian Egan Bernal, who last year became the first South American winner and, at the time, the youngest in more than 100 years.

Bernal abandoned last Wednesday after struggling in the mountains. His standings plummet signaled the end, at least for now, of the Ineos Grenadiers dynasty after five straight Tour titles dating to Chris Froome and the Team Sky days.

Jumbo-Visma became the new dominant team. The leader Roglic was ushered up climbs by several Jumbo men, including Sepp Kuss, the most promising American male cyclist in several years.

What a story Roglic was shaping up to be. A junior champion ski jumper, he was concussed in a training crash on the eve of what would have been his World Cup debut in 2007. Roglic never made it to the World Cup before quitting and taking up cycling years later.

As Roglic recovered from that spill in Planica, Pogacar had his sights on the Rog Ljubljana cycling club about 60 miles east. Little Tadej wanted to follow older brother Tilen into bike racing, but the club didn’t have a bike small enough.

The following spring, they found one. Pogacar was off and pedaling. In 2018, at age 18, he was offered a contract and then signed with UAE Team Emirates, his first World Tour team. The next year, Pogacar finished third at the Vuelta a Espana won by Roglic, becoming the youngest Grand Tour podium finisher since 1974.

Pogacar was initially slated to support another rider, Fabio Aru, for UAE Emirates at this year’s Tour. But his continued ascent propelled him into a team leader role.

Bernal and Roglic entered the Tour as co-favorites. After that, Pogacar was among a group of podium contenders but perhaps with the highest ceiling.

He stayed with the favorites for much of the Tour, save losing 81 seconds on the seventh stage, caught on the wrong end of a split after a crash in front of him.

“I’m not worried,” Pogacar said that day. “We will try another day.”

The next day, actually. He reeled back half of the lost time, putting him within striking distance of Roglic going into Saturday’s 22-mile time trial, the so-called “race of truth.”

Pogacar put in a performance in the time trial that reminded of Greg LeMond‘s epic finale in 1989. Pogacar won the stage by 81 seconds, greater than the margin separating second place from eighth place. Roglic was a disappointing fifth on the day, but he could have finished second and still lost all of his 57-second lead to Pogacar.

Pogacar turns 22 on Monday, but that might not add much to the celebration.

“Sorry,” he said, “but I’m not really a fan of my birthdays.”

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!