A historical win for Didier Defago at Bormio
It’s quite a ‘historical’ victory that reigning Olympic Champion Didier Defago celebrated today at Bormio, being the first Swiss speed specialist to win the treacherous ‘Stelvio’ downhill race since the golden triumph of the legend Pirmin Zurbriggen back in February 1985! The 34-year-old also achieved an impressive comeback after his painful knee injury a year ago at that occasion, beating by 29/100 of a second his seven years younger teammate Patrick Kueng while Austria’s Klaus Kroell, the fastest man in Wednesday’s finaly training run, was a solid 3rd at 42/100.
A group of other established specialists lead by Canada’s Erik Guay and Bode Miller finished behind the podium while the defending downhill World Cup Champion Didier Cuche had to be content with a more discreet 8th place. His colleague Beat Feuz crashed on his way down the course, leaving the red leader bib to USA’s Bode Miller, the winner at Beaver Creek earlier this month.
In all the fourteen World Cup downhills held on the challenging ‘Stelvio’ course since December 1993, no Swiss racer managed to clock the fastest time on race-day until Defago’s nearly perfect run. Didier Cuche, 2nd in 2006 behind Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, was only a mere one-hundredth of a second away from that maiden win. Yet as other established pre-race favorites, Cuche had a hard time today to apply his usual aggressive style on the softer course which advantaged racers with a smoother technique and earlier start-numbers.
After two training runs held by perfect weather conditions, the competition itself took place today under a cloudy grey sky. The snow on the ‘Stelvio’ run became just that little bit softer during the morning to make a significant difference for the ‘top guns’ who like to put great pressure on their edges in the turns.
4th World Cup win for Defago
Didier Defago on his side was delighted by those new conditions which helped him to fully achieve his potential to win his fourth World Cup – and his first one since his Olympic highlight at Vancouver in February 2010!
“I felt very comfortable today from top to bottom, I perfectly negotiated the main difficulties of the course and I even congratulated my injured left knee after crossing the finish line,” the skier from Morgins told the press afterwards. “I was happy to wear a low bib number today, I thought it would help me to achieve a strong run, but I didn’t expect to win that race, even when I saw that I was a little but faster than Patrick Kueng. I was aiming for a top-5 here. My main goal this season was a downhill podium. Apparently things went much faster for me than I thought. I guess the fact that I’m enjoying so much to be back on my racing skis after my injury strongly helped me to do so well here after reaching some promising results in recent races, including at Alta Badia where I did much better than expected in giant slalom.”
A skilled technical skier who enjoys fighting (and winning) on tough courses as the ‘Streif’ at Kitzbühel or the ‘Lauberhorn’ at Wengen, Didier Defago was 2nd here two years ago in downhill behind Slovenia’s Andrej Jerman. He was particularly happy to share this great comeback with his wife Sabine and his two kids who met him at the finish area after the race. “They have helped me a lot during my rehab, it has been a tough time as I have never been so seriously injured in my career,” he explained. “I feel very serene now and I’m looking forward for the next exciting Swiss races at Adelboden and Wengen. I have already reached way more than expected at the season start, so I can be very relaxed now.”
This should also be the case for Patrick Kueng, who confirmed his talent with this unexpected podium finish – the second in a row if the previous downhill at Val Gardena would not have been cancelled !The 27-year-old was 4th here last year and 3rd at the 2010 World Cup Finals at Garmisch-Partenkirchen – yet now he feels ready for even more in the upcoming ‘Classics’ at Wengen, Kitzbuehel, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Chamonix. The Swiss team can count on a strong group of potential winners now – which is still not the case in Austria.
Beside Klaus Kroell, only another Austrian skier managed to enter the top-10, Hannes Reichelt. Interestingly enough, Kroell is the only racer on his team having already won a World Cup downhill so far – last January at Wengen!
“It may take a time for our team to get back at the top as in past seasons, but some of our younger racers are very talented too,” Klaus said after the race. “They need some time to bloom but we remain confident. Some of them will soon move up. Hopefully it was also be the case for me in January. This 3rd place is OK for me, even if I was aiming for more this morning. I felt very confident after yesterday’s training run but I didn’t achieve the perfect run I was hoping. I had a difficult time to handle the softer course today and made a bad mistake at the top of the last pitch. But I can live with this, I’m in good shape and it’s just a matter to put all the pieces together. I’m convinced that my day will come soon.”
The next downhill race in scheduled in two weeks at Wengen, where a Super-combined, a downhill and a slalom are planned nearby the old Swiss village dominated by the impressive mountains of the ‘Jungfrau’. In the meantime, a slalom will take place for the men at Zagreb on Jan.5th followed by two other technical events at Adelboden on Jan. 7th and 8th .