KITZBUEHEL, AUSTRIA – In yet another display of mastery on what most consider ski racing’s toughest track, Didier Cuche destroyed the field with a scintillating run down the Streif, winning Saturday’s Hahnenkamm downhill by the huge margin of 0.98 seconds. For the veteran Swiss it was his fourth downhill win at the venerable ski venue equaling the mark of legendary Austrian Franz Klammer.
Astonishingly, Cuche’s high-speed journey down the mountain could have been significantly faster if not for a few mishaps.
“It’s a good run, but I never expected it to be so fast because first I lost a pole at the start and then I was really wide at the turn before the Steilhang,” said the four-time champion. “I wasn’t sure coming down if it would be enough and finally the crowd was a little late screaming when I crossed the finish. It was good, but I wasn’t expecting to be first.”
In regards to tieing Klammer’s all-time winning mark at the Hahnenkamm, Cuche said, “I consider it three-and-a-half because my first win was a sprint downhill. He had four, but maybe I will manage that next year.”
Back in 1998, Cuche won his first downhill in Kitzbühel, but from a lower start. His other triumphs came last January and in 2008.
Cuche’s winning time was 1:57.72. His 0.98 second victory over runner-up Bode Miller was the largest winning margin since Austria’s Stephan Eberharter obliterated the field by 1.21 seconds in 2004.
"I had really good skis and I want to thank my factory and serviceman," said Cuche, who like Miller, races on Head.
As the 11th racer to take to the 3312-meter piste, the American Miller thrilled the large crowd of 45,000 with an excellent run of 1:58.70, one which moved him into the lead by 0.66, bumping Italy’s Werner Heel.
“I was happy, I skied what I thought would be good enough to win,” said the American triple medalist from the Vancouver Olympics. “I didn’t take maximum risk, but I think maximum risk was too much to ask for. But, I skied well. I made no mistakes really. I backed off in a couple of areas where maybe I could have skied better, but it’s second place.”
Miller’s bid for his first Hahnenkamm title was thwarted seven racers later when Cuche took to the extremely challenging piste. The 33-year-old from New Hampshire, ended second at the historic race for the second time in his career, having also been defated by the Swiss superstar in 2008.
“I needed the skis to beat Cuche today,” Miler continued. “I came onto the road faster than him, but he came off of it four-kilometers faster and four-tenths ahead. That’s the difference, when you have fast skis, the whole middle part of the course is pretty fast and rolly and you can pull time the whole way there.”
Miller also praised the three-time World Cup downhill champion’s strategic approach to racing.
“He makes accurate decisions and then executes those decisions perfectly,” said Miller about Cuche.
Starting 28th, Adrien Theaux surprised and shocked the Austrian fans knocking one of the home favorites, Mario Scheiber to fourth while attaining just his second career podium. The 26-year-old became the first Frenchman, since 1998 to earn a top three at a downhill in Kitzbühel.
"Its just crazy. I think it's a great day for me today," said an ecstatic Theaux in the finish area. "It was my first podium in downhill and to do it with Didier Cuche and Bode Miller is great. It's unbelievable. I'm so happy."
Theaux surpassed Scheiber's time by .18 to grab the final podium position. It was the second consecutive year that an Austrian failed to reach a podium at the Hahnenkamm downhill.
"I skied well on the top and I had a good feeling at the bottom," said the French racer from Val Thorens. "I was so so in the middle. I'm not very good on the flats."
Austrian fan favorite, Michael Walchhofer, competing in his final downhill in Kitzbühel, had problems in the middle section of the course getting off kilter after hitting a bump and sliding over the crest of the Seidalmsprung. He came to a stop shortly thereafter, but did not complete his run.
"I didn't expect that," said Walchhofer, who was victorious here in 2006. "I had too much speed and had to let myself fall down so I didn't slide into the nets.
Another scary moment was witnessed when the 33rd racer, Siegmar Klotz of Italy, lost his balance launching off the Hausberg bump near the lower section of the course and subsequently landed hard on his backside. He slid into the safety netting and a lengthy delay of the race ensued, as the 23-year-old Italian was airlifted off the mountain by helicopter. He was flown to a nearby hospital where it was determined that he suffered minor injuries to his head, back and wrist.
As was the case similar to last year, Saturday's big show staged in front of some 45,000 colorfully adorned and flag-waving spectators on what was a mostly sunny day in the Tyrolean Alps definitively belonged to Cuche.
At 36-years and five-months of age, Cuche also earned the distinction of becoming the oldest racer to achieve an alpine World Cup victory. The veteran Swiss broke the record set by Liechtenstein’s Marco Buechel who won a super-G here in 2008 by just a matter of months.
“He’s a good friend,” said Cuche with a smile about the recently retired racer from Liechtenstein. “I’m proud to catch that record, but I’m not really proud to do that to him”
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