Aksel Lund Svindal won the opening World Cup Downhill of the new season and in emphatic style. With the exciting new young Austrian Max Franz having posted a fast time from the early start number of 3, and then held it, Svindal was not totally sure that he could better it despite having won the second training run. When Erik Guay went fast and into second spot, this gave the giant Norwegian the confidence to believe that he could attack the course:Â â€œConditions were changing, when at the start you cannot ignore what goes on in the finish area, everyone is talking about the results. I was not sure I could win starting towards the back, but I heard Erik Guay did well, starting just before me and I knew it was possible. I heard no one was able to beat Franz, but Erik did well and I knew I would have to attack all the way if I wanted to win.â€ In the end young Austrian Max Franz held on for the win with Klaus Kroell and Marco Sullivan shared third place with Tobias Stechert coming from outside the top 30 to place fifth.
â€œEvery victory feels very good,â€ Aksel said after the race,Â â€œBut at the beginning of the season, to be at the top in all training runs and then win the race is a great sign. I have won three SG here but never a DH so this is great. It proves that what I worked on this summer was good.â€
Svindal was in devastating form on his Head skis at the top of the course, carving out a lead and extending it at each check point. A wide turn coming into the waterfall section and then a wiggle of the skis on the run in to the finish may have given Franz who was waiting in the finish hope but by the time Svindal crossed the line, the lead was emphatic â€“ over half a second! Franz’s result, second, is still a career best to date and many expect it will not be too long before he steps on to the top step. With Kroell just behind his young teammate (by two hundredths), this was proving to be a good day for the Austrian team.
For Guay, although he came down into second, six weeks ago he did not even think that he would be able to race. 6th place was the reward of his efforts and this was a fitting post he put on twitter after the race: “6 weeks ago I was not sure I would even be able to compete in LL. thanks to B2Ten, Dr Litch and the coaches!!!6th!!!”
As Svindal got reacquainted with the leaders enclosure in the finish, he had a moment of worry as his Norwegian teammate, Kjetil Jansrud started posting fastest split times at the top of the course. Jansrud, who won last season in Kvitfjell, crossed the line to take 9th place at the end of the race just in front of Johan Clary in tenth, making it five HEAD racers in the top ten.For Stechert this was his best World Cup result and helps in his quest to qualify for the World Championships: â€œI have been skiing well in training but did not think I would be so high up the results in the finish,â€ explained the German afterwards.
Sadly the race gathered another injury to go with the injuries to Beat Feuz, out for the season with knee problems and Dani Albrecht, helicoptered off the hill in the first training run as young Italian racer Mattia Casse was also helicoptered off requiring the race to be delayed.
Yet for every bit of sad news there was good news as the race saw the return to action of a number of famous racers: 2009 World Downhill Champion John Kucera pushed out the World Cup start gate in anger for the first time since he was injured three years ago and his teammate Manny Osborne-Paradis managed to take 22nd spot from a start of 44 after being injured for much of the last two seasons. After a year that had seen him drop from being part of the top fifteen seeds to down to starting at 56, Werner Heel, now on Atomic, posted a morale boosting 20th best time.
The performance of the day came from Marco Sullivan who managed to bustle his way on to the podium in joint third from a start of 42. There must have been something about the number 42 today as Mikaela Schiffrin, racing in Aspen posted a career best top ten in GS as well from the same number! Sullivan commented after the race thatÂ “I wouldn’t be racing if I didn’t think that I could compete. A podium in the first race of the year makes it more sweet.”
This was Svindalâ€™s sixth downhill win and the third time he has won in Lake Louise, all three other wins have been in the Super G. Svindal is the first person since Stephan Eberharter in 2002 to win the last race of the previous season and the first of the new season!
Britain’s Dougie Crawford failed to finish afterwards he commented “A disappointing DNF today. I was unlucky with the weather but basically didn’t cope with the bumps too well. I got kicked out of the course just before the jump, wasn’t over the outside ski enough and got bounced by a rut. Happily I’m all fine, just frustrated. Need to step it up in Beaver Creek next week!”