Kroell Speeds to Victory at 81st Lauberhorn
Klaus Kroell snapped a five-year Austrian drought at the Lauberhorn downhill, holding off Swiss rivals Didier Cuche and Carlo Janka to win the 81st edition of the classic race on Saturday by 0.14 seconds.
Starting 12th on another very warm day in Wengen, the 30-year-old Kroell clocked a time of 2:31.28 on the long and physically demanding 4430-meter Lauberhorn piste. Somehow, the Austrian, who has won only twice before on the World Cup and just once in downhill two years ago in Kvitfjell, survived the challenges of the world’s elite downhillers.
“It the biggest, for sure,” said Kroell about the importance of the victory. “The feeling is amazing, it’s unbelievable. I was very relaxed and it was a great job I think.”
“I had a very good line, the speed was amazing and my skis were great,” continued Kroell, discussing his win in the finish area. “Thanks to everyone for a great job. I lost a little bit on the lower section of the course in the Ziel-S, but it was enough. After Cuche, I was very happy.”
Eight racers after Kroell, including Janka and World Cup downhill leader Michael Walchhofer, the sentimental home favorite, Didier Cuche took to the course with visions of finally nabbing that elusive Lauberhorn title.
But Cuche – who has twice finished second to Bode Miller at the venerable race – faltered slightly just past the midway part of the course. Despite making up time on the lower section following his mistake, the 36-year-old Swiss veteran failed to knock Kroell from the top spot. His run was good enough for second place yet again.
“I made the mistake just after the Wassserstation (tunnel) on the biggest gliding section,” said Cuche. “I put the skis really flat and then I caught an edge. This is not the best place to make a mistake and maybe it cost me the victory.”
“Wengen is a difficult course and it takes a lot of energy, but I had a lot of pleasure out there today,” continued the veteran Cuche. “If I will come back, we will see.”
Switzerland’s Janka reached the podium for the second time in as many days, finishing third, 0.39 seconds off Kroell’s winning time.
“Another perfect weekend for me in Wengen,” said the 24-year-old skier from Obersaxen. “Today was a really tough race, so I’m happy with third place.”
Like many others, Janka had difficulty in the very tricky Kernen-S, formerly known as the Brüggli-S, where racers are forced to slow down, while leaving their tuck in order to navigate a tight right-left turn combination.
“The Brüggli-S was not perfect, I didn’t take all the speed with me there and I didn’t have the best power today for the whole race,” said Janka.
On what was an absolutely gorgeous early afternoon with temperatures climbing to six degrees Celsius, 35,000 fans ventured to watch Saturday’s race, with the finish area becoming a sea of red Swiss flags.
“I think the crowd was really happy to have two Swiss guys on the podium,” said Cuche. “It was a good atmosphere today in Wengen.”
Saturday’s early leader was Slovenia’s Andrej “Jerry” Jerman. Kicking out of the gate third, Jerman appeared to be fast as he crossed the line 0.94 seconds quicker than Italy’s Christof Innerhofer, the first racer down the course.
Jerman’s time held up for eight racers, until the eventual winner, Kroell, took his turn.
“I figured that my run was really good today, but unfortunately the other guys ran better, so I end up fourth,” said Jerman. “Last year I missed the podium by four-hundredths, but that’s how it goes, that’s sports, that’s skiing.”
One of the other pre-race favorites, Austria’s Walchhofer, had a tough time while losing time throughout the latter half of his run following a critical mistake in Kernen-S. Walchoffer, the last Austrian to win the Lauberhorn in 2005, finished a disappointing 11th, 1.83 seconds slower than Kroell.
Walchhofer – who has three victories to his credit this season – has been fighting a bad cold, one which prevented him from skiing in yesterday’s combined.
Two-time Lauberhorn champion, Bode Miller never found the speed necessary to contend and finished eighth, 1.43 seconds behind Kroell.
Germany’s Stephan Keppler and Swedish veteran Patrik Jaerbyn, who left the starthouse fourth, both suffered injuries from crashes which caused delays in the race.
Jaerbyn lost control coming off a ripple in the Minschkante section following the signature Hundschopt Jump. The Swedish veteran fell and slid into the safety netting, resulting in a ten-minute delay. It appears Jaerbyn has only suffered a concussion and is currently in a hospital in Interlaken awaiting further tests tomorrow.
Keppler crashed into the padded barriers just before the exit of the Kernen-S. Fortunately for him, speeds are significantly slower through this section of the course. However, the 27-year-old German skier still suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, plus left ankle and facial injuries.
While the Swiss clearly have nothing to be ashamed of, Saturday belonged to Kroell, who is in his ninth season on tour. With the victory – and ninth career podium – the 1.86-meter Austrian also garnered his ninth career podium. Earning 100-points for his successful effort, Kroell climbed to third place in the World Cup downhill standings, overtaking Cuche.
Kroell still trails Walchhofer and Switzerland’s Silvan Zurbriggen in points heading into next weekend’s vaunted Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbühel, Austria.
“The feeling is great and I am looking forward to Kitzbühel,” said Kroell. “I think for the whole Austrian team it is very good.”
-Written by Brian Pinelli
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