Skiing: French pair look to shine at home

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The Independent Online
THE FRENCH women's Alpine skiers hope to confirm their return to form this weekend on home snow when the World Cup circuit returns to European slopes in Serre Chevalier.

Christel Saioni and Regine Cavagnoud respectively won the first slalom and giant slalom of the season, the first time since Carole Merle's retirement at the end of the 1993 season a French woman had won in either event. The pair now hope to prove their victories at Copper Mountain were no flukes.

Cavagnoud, a consistent and versatile skier in almost 10 years on the World Cup circuit, is coming of age at 29. Last year she was finally rewarded after years of waiting when she won a downhill and a super-G in Cortina d'Ampezzo. But the success was short-lived as she had to have a knee operation and was out of action for six months. She insists the break did her morale a lot of good, though.

"Last winter both my victory and my injury took a huge burden off my shoulders, a burden I'd been carrying around for years of hard times on the circuit," she said. "I was not worried about not skiing for six months because technically and in terms of experience I don't fear anybody."

Cavagnoud, currently third in the overall World Cup standings, looks one of the skiers capable of taking advantage of the absence of the injured Austrian Alexandra Meissnitzer.

Tomorrow's giant slalom looks set to be a hard-fought race, with Slovenia's Mojca Suhadolc, winner of a super-G in Lake Louise last Sunday, and Switzerland's Sonja Nef, winner of the opening giant slalom in nearby Tignes, among the other favourites.

Sunday's slalom will be special for Saioni as she trains in the nearby ski resort of Pra Loup and will be even more of a local favourite than the Savoy-born Cavagnoud.