Hat-trick for Michael Walchhofer
Two months after his comeback triumph at Lake Louise, Michael Walchhofer dominated once more all his rivals in downhill, winning the prestigious speed event at Bormio raced by perfect weather and course conditions. He beat by only a few hundredths of a second Switzerland’s Silvan Zurbriggen, who superbly confirmed his unexpected win at Val Gardena, while Italy’s Cristof Innerhofer was a happy 3rd – his best performance since his maiden victory here two years ago.
Switzerland’s Patrick Kueng was a strong 4th ahead of Austria’s Georg Streitberger, while many favorites struggled on their way down the demanding Stelvio run. Bode Miller, the 2005 World Champion here, was 8th, Aksel Lund Svindal 11th while Didier Cuche made a huge mistake in the upper part of the course after clocking the fastest intermediate time. He came in a far and disappointed 21st. Klaus Kroell, the fastest man in training in Tuesday, crashed towards the bottom of the course, yet without injuring himself. His colleague Mario Scheiber missed a gate!
New record for Walchhofer at Bormio
Bormio has always been a special place for Michael Walchhofer and the ‘Stelvio’ run an exciting challenge to overcome – foremost considered as a ‘glider’ excelling on smooth slopes, the racer from Zauchensee wanted to prove that he could also do well on icy and treacherous courses.
The tall Austrian definitely did more than this – on Wednesday the 2003 World Champion celebrated his third triumph on the tough Italian slope where he also finished five times on the podium in 2nd of 3rd places including at the 2005 FIS World Championships. Nobody ever did better here!
Except his 19th place back in December 2007, the Austrian veteran always ended this race among the best-10, managing an impressive double win in two consecutive days four years ago. He was twice 3rd in 2008 and 2009.
“Goodbye Stelvio, it has always been nice to come to Bormio,” he said in one of his post-race interviews after a long glance to the final part of the freighting steep run that he may not see again for a while.
“It’s a perfect way to leave the scene here, I was really sorry to have missed the opportunity to set a new record at Val Gardena ten days ago,” he added. “I would have been very proud to become the first speed specialist winning five races there – but this is without any doubt a very sweet revenge. To win that tough competition means a lot for a downhiller – there is no other slope on the tour which takes so much out of you. Here you’re moving at your limits from top to bottom, it’s something very tough – both mentally and physically. Achieving this performance at 35 during my last season is pretty exciting too.”
Not a ski-star!
Because of his gentle manners and his discretion, Walchhofer never became a popular ski-star – but for sure he will belong to the small group of the ‘all-time’ greatest speed specialists once he will retire, not so far from superstars such as ski-legend Franz Klammer, the great dominator of the roaring 70s who won twenty-five World Cup downhills including all the former ‘Classics’ , Switzerland’s Peter Mueller, in second place with 19th wins just ahead of Stefan Eberharter, who won 18 World Cup downhills ( as well as 6 Super-Gs and 5 giant slaloms). So far, Michael has dominated his rivals in 13 downhill races – but there are still many left on the 2011 calendar.
With a total of 34 top-3 finishes in downhill since his debuts in the event back in 2001, Walchhofer is by far the most consistent specialist on the tour – yet his most amazing performance is that he managed to reach the podium on ALL downhill runs which are regularly included on the World Cup tour. He only needs to win at Chamonix in one month and then in Kviftjell in March to fully complete his quest for glory during his racing career.
Yet he will need to battle harder than expected to keep his red leader bib after the Finals at Lenzerheide as his toughest rival, Silvan Zurbriggen, only lost the race by 8/100 of a second despite his limited experience in the specialty. The current overall World Cup leader, who decided to skip the up-coming 'show race' at Munich next Sunday to intensively train slalom prior the crucial races at Zagreb, Adelboden or Wengen, will be fighting hard to defend his chances in downhill at Wengen and Kitzbühel in a few weeks.
The Swiss still doesn’t want to speculate on his chances to fight for the overall World Cup title until the end of the season – he rather keeps on focusing on his next competition and save as much energy as possible in the meantime. “There are so many races left, it would make no sense to start thinking about the crystal globe now, next month will be gruelling for me with all those races on my calendar,” he explained. “I didn’t expect this result at all – I guess I managed to perfectly prepare it mentally last night after two average training runs. To be on the podium here is absolutely wonderful for me, I am happy to have decided last week to change my plan and race here. I wonder how long I can keep this great form.”
After a short New Year break, most of the leaders of the overall standings will travel to Munich to take part on January 2nd in a parallel slalom located on the ‘Olympia-Park aera’. It’s the first parallel race included in the World Cup schedule for a long time – since the 1997/98 season.
An opening parallel slalom took place in November at Tignes, in France – won by Austria’s Pepi Strobl and France’s Leila Piccard. In 1975, the Worlds Cup title was awarded after the now famous parallel slalom from Val Gardena where Italy’s Gustavo Thoeni strongly helped by his teammates who didn’t challenge him at all during their encounters, beat Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark in a dramatic final.
Contributed by PkL