KANDAHAR 2012- A turning point for the World Cup leaders
Even though defending Overall champion Ivica Kostelic has not repeated his impressive series of victories in January 2012 – the Croat won seven events within a month a year ago including the Super-combined at Chamonix – he has been once more extremely consistent and successful in past months, celebrating a total of five victories in slalom (3) and combined (2) in North-America and Europe during the past two months. This allows him to lead the Overall standings with nearly one thousand points – 80 ahead of his closest rival, Marcel Hirscher.
Ivica was the only one able to match Hirscher’s level in slalom this winter – and apparently the skier from Zagreb also seems to be his only serious rival for the Overall title this winter. The other pre-season favorites didn’t manage to confirm their potential as top World Cup contenders. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal started off strongly in North-America, especially in Super-G, yet he soon faded after the return of the circuit in the Alps and his 3rd place finish at Val Gardena.
Carlo Janka, the Overall champion in March 2010 after capturing a superb Olympic gold medal in giant slalom at Vancouver, has been plagued by strong pains at his back since November and only scored one promising result when he came in 4th in Wengen’s downhill.
An outstanding start for Didier Cuche in Canada.
Didier Cuche also had his problems after his outstanding start at Lake Louise where he won the downhill prior finishing 2nd in the Super-G won by Svindal. His fans had to wait the exciting races at Kitzbühel and Garmisch-Partenkirchen to see him moving again at his best level and reconquer the lead in the downhill standings that he aims now to clinch a fifth time !
An eventual third consecutive season win at Chamonix on Friday – and another strong performance the next day for the Kandahar race – would reinforce his position in the downhill standings before the next competitions at Sochi and Kvitfjell. Interestingly enough, the 37-year-old veteran from nearby Neuchâtel has found back his best rhythm in Kitzbühel after having announced his decision to end his racing career next month after the Finals in Austria.
Watching the Swiss ace steaming down both short runs at Kitzbühel and Garmisch-Partenkirchen was very exciting - obviously he was fully enjoying his time on those slopes while intensively fighting his way down the course.
His main rival for the crystal globe in downhill is thirteen years younger – but definitely one of the most gifted racers in his generation. After overcoming a series of grueling injuries which plagues him in the season following his two-gold-medal campaign at the junior 2007 World Championships, Beat Feuz has found back all his power and abilities to become one of the skiers to beat in downhill – and also in the combined events! A strong contender for the podium in the 2012 Overall standings, Feuz also feels comfortable on the legendary ‘Verte des Houches’ track which hosts international races since the 1937 FIS World Championships marked by the triple triumph of French ski legend Emile Allais. The oldest still alive FIS World Champion dominated all his rivals in the three competitions held in the resort that year – the downhill, the (special) slalom and the combined.
Last year, Feuz, who turns 25 next week on Feb. 11th, was a solid 7th in the regular downhill here prior clocking the fastest time in the combined downhill the next day. He took 11th place in that competition clinched by Kostelic after an amazing slalom run.
A few weeks later, after having scored a strong 9th place in downhill at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Feuz suddenly moved at the highest level winning his first race at Kvitfjell ahead of Canada’s Erik Guay and Austria’s Michael Walchhofer, the winner on the next day.
Beat Feuz aimns for more.
His season start was impressive with several top-3 results in North-America before his first Super-G victory at Val Gardena ahead of Bode Miller and Svindal – two of the best specialists in that event! A month later he became one of the youngest winners at Wengen after beating Austria’s Hannes Reichelt.
Hannes, the 2008 Super-G World Cup champion (by single point in front of Cuche) has been the most consistent Austrian downhiller this winter along Klaus Kroell and seems more than ready to celebrate his first victory in that specialty after having also dominated his rivals in giant slalom and Super.-G in past years.
A smooth glider as well as a technically excellent skier, Reichelt sits in 4th place in thwe downhill standings not too far from Feuz and his colleague Kroell.
Chamonix should also inspire the North American, especially Bode Miller, Erik Guay 2nd at Garmisch-Partenkirchen last week and his buddy Jan Hudec, also very fast in Germany prior making a mistake in the middle of his run.
Adrien Théaux and Johann Clarey from France may also have a ‘special’ reason to excel in front of their fans – foremost in Friday’s race, the make-up race from Val Gardena,in Italy. Both were leading the intermediate rankings when the competition had to be called off by the race jury because of strong gusts of wind and difficult weather conditions! They didn’t reach a podium afterwards – so they’ll certainly be very motivated this weekend.