Cuche wins downhill for record 5th time on Hahnenkamm
KITZBUHEL, Austria—Didier Cuche stormed through stormy conditions to win his unprecedented fifth downhill on the Hahnenkamm just two days after announcing his retirement from ski racing at the end of the 2012 season. Cuche now has surpassed the great Austrian racer Franz Klammer with the most downhill wins at Kitzbuhel.
“It was a great run,” said Klammer, who was watching Cuche's run in the finish corral with the Austrian coaches and athletes. “It was fantastic. At the bottom, he showed everyone how to do it.”
Cuche, in bib 19, was behind Puchner (who had run bib 4 and held the lead) for nearly the entire race until the Querfahrt—an intense fall-a-way turn near the bottom of the course. Being technically proficient through that section and the Zeilschuss compression and jump moved him from 0.07 back to finish 0.36 ahead. Kroell and Baumann in bibs 20 and 21 couldn't catch him.
Though a Swiss took home the victory, Austrians didn't disappoint their home fans—including Austria's Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California—who watched from the grandstands. Even in wet and cold conditions, 30,000 spectators came out to see Romed Baumann come in second, Klaus Kroell finish third, and Joachim Puchner place fourth, all of them within four tenths of a second from the win.
The race was held in snowy, foggy, and low-light conditions. Nearly a meter of wet snow fell on the Hahnenkamm in 24 hours, forcing course workers to remove the snow to prevent another race from being canceled this weekend. Friday's super G was canceled because of the conditions. With low visibility and more and more snow piling up on the course throughout the race, conditions only got worse. This was a race where having an early bib start was paramount, racers said. The course was shortened from the 3.3-kilometer start to 2 kilometers—the lowest start option at Alte Schneise—which is historically common because of challenging January conditions in the Kitzbuhel Alps. From 2000-09, for example, the Streif full course was run in only four of the 10 years.
Shorter courses mean shorter amounts of time to race.
Cuche won with a time of 1 minute, 13.28 seconds, nearly 45 seconds faster than his training runs that took place earlier this week under clear blue skies on a full course. Cuche said however that starting from a lower start gate wasn't a concern for him. “An athlete doesn't think too much about that on race day because you have to focus,” Cuche said. “You are going to try to win anywhere you start. Adding: “I wasn't too disappointed to not run from the top because my last run from the top, I also won it,” said a laughing Cuche. He has won the Hahnenkamm downhill in 1998, 2008, 2010, and 2011.
Bode Miller, who was also a favorite to do well, skied from bib 19. He made a mistake that nearly caused him to straddle a gate and be the only crash of the day—but in Miller style, he athletically recovered but lost speed and ended up in a disappointing 29th. Miller has yet to win the super G or downhill in Kitzbuhel (just two combined wins).
After the race, the Austrians joked, saying they hope it's the last time a Swiss will bypass them on the top of “their” podium in Kitzbuhel as Cuche announced that he will hang up his ski racing boots for good at the end of this season. At 37, the Swiss speed star is the oldest winner of a World Cup downhill. He said that announcing his retirement on Thursday helped him “enjoy the race more,” and ultimately helped him win. At the press conference on Thursday, he said “it's kind of a release,” for him to stop thinking about when to announce retirement, and focus on ski racing the rest of the season.
When Klammer was asked if he was disappointed that Cuche has broken his record, he said: “Records are meant to be broken."