Cuche owns Kitzbuehel
In front of 40,000 fans on a bluebird day in beautiful Kitzbuehel, Switzerland's Didier Cuche easily outdistanced the field, taming the Streif course en route to winning the prestigious Hahnenkamm Downhill by .28 seconds. It was the exact same margin of victory as his win in yesterday's super-G.
Although Cuche has won two Kitzbuehel downhills previously, a sprint race in 1998 and one on a shortened course two years ago, it was his first victory from the traditional starthouse at 1665 metes. The dominant Swiss racer also became the first skier to win both the Kitzbuehel super-G and downhill in the same year since Austria's Stephan Eberharter accomplished the feat in 2002.
"Three things are really special to me," said Cuche while being mobbed by media in the finish area after the race. "Winning twice in two days, winning from the top finally on the original course and being the third man who made it two days in a row."
Austria's Hermann Maier was the other racer to win both the Kitzbuehel downhill and super-G on consecutive days. Maier did so in 2001, the year before Eberharter.
Skiing 20th, Cuche's spectacular and mistake-free run of 1:53.74 knocked Slovenia's Andrej Sporn out of the top position. No other racer would pose a serious threat to the 35-year-old Swiss racer.
"At the start, I was pretty relaxed and I knew I had to attack," said the Swiss champion. "I made no mistake so it was a huge relief in the finish. I am proud to have won again."
"Didier is the best skier in the world at this time," said Italian Werner Heel, who finished third Saturday.
Taking advantage of a favorable start position, leaving the start house seventh, Slovenia's Sporn clocked a run of 1:54.02, good enough for the early lead. His time would hold up until Cuche came down 13 racers later, finally eclipsing the 28-year-old Slovenian's time.
"It was a really good feeling standing there [at the bottom in the lead] and then when Bode came down and didn't beat me, I knew it would be a good result," said Sporn.
Sporn's previous best downhill results were a 13th in Val Gardena and a 15th in Bormio earlier this season. The Kranjska Gora native was a strong third in Thursday's final training run.
"It's really awesome - I knew that I was able to ski good," said Sporn. "I managed good runs in the training and in races before, but I always made mistakes. Like in Wengen, I thought I'd be in the top ten until a mistake. At the start I said, ski like in training and it would be a good result, but I didn't imagine I'd be on the podium."
Italy's Heel, who was fourth last weekend at the Lauberhorn in Wengen, improved upon that today with his third place, .39 seconds off the winning time. It was the first-ever podium in Kitzbuehel for the 27-year-old Italian racer.
"I'm so happy with my third place," said Heel. "This is the nicest race of the year. There are so many people here and it's my first podium here. I hope I will have more here."
Heel took time off from racing over the holidays after suffering a minor knee injury from a crash in a Val Gardena super-G in December.
"My injury is 100 percent perfect," he said. "I'll go back to Italy next week and train in Val di Fassa and then we'll go to Nakiska, Canada to train more for the Olympic Games.
Fan favorite Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein skied his farewell race in Kitzbuehel today, a place where he won the super-G in 2008. The veteran from Liechtenstein, who will be competing in his sixth Olympics next month, is retiring at the end of the season. Buechel finished 15th, 1.65 seconds behind Cuche.
"I was angry at the end of the Steilhang because I didn't have all the speed I needed and lost a lot of time there," said Buechel. "Coming down the traverse I thought to myself enjoy it because this is the last time you're doing it. It was emotional, but I was not happy with my run."
Regarding what he'll remember most about skiing the Hahnenkamm over the years, Buechel said, "Fear, fascination, good emotions, bad emotions, thrill and I'm going to miss the crowd."
The top Austrian on the day was Mario Scheiber, who finished fourth, .51 behind Cuche. His teammate, Michael Walchoffer had problems coming off the Hausberg bump, catching his right edge after landing and forcing his left ski off the snow. The former Hahnenkamm champion got turned around, fell and slid into the safety netting. He appeared to be uninjured. Hans Grugger joined Scheiber as the second Austrian in the top ten finishing sixth.
American Bode Miller, who was fastest in Thursday's final training run, appeared to be on his way to a solid run, carrying sufficient speed up top out of the Steilhang and onto the road. He was .34 ahead of Sporn, but gradually lost ground in the middle section of the course eventually finishing ninth, 1.16 off the pace.
It was also a monumental day for Croatia. Combined and slalom specialist, Ivica Kostelic finished seventh despite starting all the way back at 32nd, his best career downhill result. Croatian teammate Natko Zrncic-Dim joined Kostelic in the top ten, finishing tenth, coming from a start position of 46th. It was also his best-ever downhill finish.
Defending Hahnenkamm champion, Didier Defago never found his top form and finished eighth, 1.08 seconds slower than his countryman Cuche.
All racers also signed their start bibs after completing their runs in the finish area. On Thursday, top racers came up with a brainstorm to help the relief effort in Haiti. The autographed bibs are up for auction on eBay starting Saturday evening.
At the flower ceremony just below the finish line after the race, Cuche slipped and fell to the ground while heading up to the top spot of the podium. It seemed to be the only mistake the Swiss champion made over the past two days.
The Hahnenkamm victory was Cuche's fourth this year and 13th in his career. He also moved up to within 17 points of Benjamin Raich, who is currently second, in the overall World Cup standings. Cuche has 726 to Raich's 743. Cuche's teammate, Carlo Janka, who was 11th on Saturday still leads with 793.
Cuche will ski in tomorrow's slalom, hoping to obtain points in the combined, which is based upon results from both Saturday's downhill and the Sunday slalom.
"I hope I don't crash in the slalom, because there will be a lot of kids out there tomorrow," joked Cuche.
There's no denying that the 35-year-old Swiss skier made a strong statement over these past two days in Kitzbuehel. With the Olympic Games in Vancouver looming just a few weeks away, Cuche has firmly established himself as the prohibitive favorite for gold in the speed events.
"I knew before coming here I had a good chance," said Cuche about being an Olympic favorite. "I'll accept that role. I'm really satisfied being in such good shape going to the Olympics."
Find out details regarding World Cup downhillers contributing to the Haiti Relief Effort on www.hahnenkamm.com. Purchase an autographed start bib from the Hahnenkamm downhill to help the cause.
By Brian Pinelli
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