WENGEN, Switzerland…On a near perfect Saturday (Jan. 15) for ski racing, and apparently for race spectating as well, Austrian Klaus Kroell unhinged a Swiss celebration by collecting his third career World Cup win at Switzerland’s premier skiing event, the Lauberhorn downhill at Wengen.
Kroell, without a win since March of 2009 but just off the downhill podium twice this season was a scant .14 ahead of Didier Cuche, the old darling of Swiss racing, and last season’s Swiss winner of the race Carlo Janka in third within four ticks of the tenths clock.
It was the first Austrian win of the race since 2005 when Michael Walchhofer ruined the Swiss party. He finished 11th on the day. An estimated 35,000 spectators, largely Swiss, may have been disappointed with the outcome, but it was difficult to tell. The crowd decibel level stayed plenty high.
Bode Miller skied well enough to secure eight place as the Americans faced the race without their top three pure downhillers: Andrew Weibrecht to a shoulder injury, Marco Sullivan to a head injury and Steven Nyman to a “tweaked back” sustained in the downhill leg of Friday’s combined event.
“I was pushing it today, especially through the super G turns,” said Miller. “I just couldn’t generate speed.”
The only U.S. point scorer beyond Miller was Travis Ganong in 28th. Ted Ligety finished just out of the points in a three way tie for 31st.
“Travis (Ganong) did a great job here today,” said Rearick. “It’s just his second time here, last year was his first World Cup, so being able to come in here and learn from that experience. … He has to be more aggressive, but in the years to come we will see that from him.”
Ganong said he tried to “really push myself and see what I could do,” in the training runs and lamented an error high on the course. “One little mistake and then it’s so flat so it’s hard to get back up to speed.”
The Canadians, also dealing with an extensive injury list were led by Jan Hudec in 21st. Manuel Osborne-Paradis was 23rd.
Kroell told Austrian reporters his run had not been perfect and said he had “lost the line,” at the “S” turns. “Four tenths it cost me,” he said, but his time was just enough to hold up against Cuche’s charge.
It was the third time Cuche has placed second in the Lauberhorn downhill, but he refused to make excuses. Janka, on the podium for the second straight day, predicted Cuche, 36, would return next season to take another shot at winning Switzerland’s most important race.
As predicted by coach Sasha Rearick, start numbers were important. Though temperatures were right at the freezing mark and the course did not deteriorate as badly as feared, the sun attacked a surface already softened in the preceding week. No one starting outside of the top 30 made it into the top 20. Late starters found it difficult to advance up the ranks.
“As soon as I drew 29 I knew it was going to be a tough day,” said Hudec. “You need to start at the front but I took advantage of what I had. I took the intensity way up from training.”
Ligety said the run was a good warm up for a personal goal. “I really want to try to score World Cup Downhill points (at Kitzbuehel). It’s the really truely DH course of the World Cup tour. This one (Wengen) doesn’t make you nervous. You get tired, but it’s not scary. Kitzbuehel is scary.”
And danerous. The race was delayed a couple of times to allow medical personnel to extricate skiers. Patrick Jaerbyn, the oldest man on tour, took seven minutes and Stefan Keppler 15 minutes. American Erik Fisher also crashed in the Kernen S turn, but was unscathed.
In the fight for the overall title Ivica Kostelic picked up a small bit of padding for his tour leading total. He finished 12th, two placings and six points ahead of Aksel Lund Svindal and now leads 626-511. Third ranked Silvan Zurbriggen finished between the two leaders to tighten the race. He has 359pts.