Sandro Viletta lands unexpected victory in Beaver Creek super G
BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – The World Cup super G at Beaver Creek has historically been smattered by surprises and Saturday’s race was no exception. No matter that he had never before landed on a World Cup podium, wearing bib No. 30, 25-year-old Swiss racer Sandro Viletta charged down a snowy Birds of Prey course – what athletes have called the most difficult on the World Cup super G tour – to find his first victory.
The bar was set early on by Canadian Robbie Dixon, who, wearing bib No. 3, put down a speedy run that nobody could usurp until No. 12. Aksel Lund Svindal. Svindal has become one of the most memorable racers in Beaver Creek history with his three wins and eight podiums on this hill sandwiched around a training crash in 2007 that sidelined him for the entire season. On Saturday, he looked to be the winner of the race until Viletta made his jaw-dropping run.
As the light snowfall turned into bigger flakes throughout the race, nobody in the back of the start list could come close to Viletta’s winning time of 1 minute, 18.71 seconds. Svindal fell to second place, 0.20 seconds back and up-and-coming Swiss star Beat Feuz, who finished second to Bode Miller by the blink of an eye (0.04 seconds) in Friday’s downhill, landed on the podium once again in third place, 0.26 seconds back.
Previous to Saturday, Viletta’s top Cup result was a fourth place in the 2009 Adelboden giant slalom. He has had a handful of other top 10s in GS and super-combined, but only one other in super G with a seventh place last year in Hinterstoder.
“It was a big surprise. I just can’t believe it. The emotions at the first moment …” said an exuberant Viletta, adding that he attacked the course Miller-style.
“I risked all,” he said. “I heard Bode Miller yesterday. He said in the steep he was risking all, so I tried to do the same.”
Several racers struggled in the section of the course called Pete’s Arena after the first steep, hitting bumps around gates and getting thrown wide or off-course. A total of 15 athletes failed to finish the race.
Wearing bib No. 6, Austrian Matthias Mayer was the first to miss a gate, then his teammate Georg Streitberger, who won last year’s super G at Beaver Creek, skied right through a panel and was out.
Svindal, in spite of sitting in the leader’s box throughout the top 30 contenders, said he didn’t ski the top part of the course very well and didn’t feel altogether confident that his time would hold. He knew Viletta was a strong super G skier but was a bit surprised that the little known Swiss racer landed the victory.
“I was standing there with Feuz when Sandro came down,” said Svindal, who won the season-opening super G last weekend in Lake Louise. “After three gates I was like, ‘we’re in trouble now.’ He was a second ahead at the first split.’
Feuz , who smiled and agreed that he will have to learn English if he continues to finish so consistently on the World Cup podium, was thrilled with his back-to-back, top-three finishes at Beaver Creek.
“It’s unbelievable,” Feuz said through a translator. “So far my best super G result was a 13th place, so being on the podium after the podium yesterday, it couldn’t be going better. It seems to be a course that really suits me well.”
Feuz added that he and Viletta have skied together since they were young boys and he was extremely happy for his teammate’s success on Saturday.
“His run was perfect,” Feuz said. “I’m really happy for him that it finally worked out.”
Viletta had to take the latter part of last season off because of recurring back pain and also took Friday off to rest his back and his nerves. He has an aversion to airplanes but wasn’t in the least regretting the long flight to Colorado.
“I don’t fly so (well). But now I’m here and I hope I come back home. Then it's perfect for the next races in Europe,” he said, laughing.
Dixon, who took the majority of last season off after sustaining a concussion last December in Bormio, got bumped to fourth place Saturday, 0.31 seconds off the winning time, but was nonetheless pleased with the result, especially on a tough hill like Birds of Prey, where he landed an eighth in super G last year.
“I’m happy to be back racing again after 11 months,” Dixon said. “Beaver Creek is probably my favorite stop on the whole circuit. The snow is perfect. The course is in really good condition.”
Austrian Hannes Reichelt was also poised to land on the podium Saturday, but made a mistake halfway down the course and scrubbed some speed, putting him in fifth place, 0.56 seconds off the winning time. There were several other brow-raising performances, including that of Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who has changed his speed setup this season and landed by far the best result of his super G career in sixth, 0.80 seconds out. Canadian Erik Guay followed up his sixth place SG finish in Lake Louise last weekend with a seventh place Saturday, 0.81 seconds out and Benjamin Raich, who tore a knee ligament during the world championships last season, popped back into the top 10, finishing eighth, 0.85 seconds out. Last year’s World Cup super G champion Didier Cuche ended up ninth, 0.88 seconds out and 2010 Olympic super G bronze medalist Andrew Weibrecht posted the best result of the Americans in 10th, 1.06 seconds out. Although snow continued to fall onto the course, Italian Matteo Marsagalia managed to charge up from the backfield, starting No. 40 but finishing 11th.
Miller had one of his classically exciting runs on Saturday, going up on one ski coming out of Pete’s Arena but pulling it together to stay on course. He finished 21st.
The Audi FIS 2011 World Cup weekend at Beaver Creek concludes on Sunday with giant slalom.
by Shauna Farnell