Kitzbühel, Austria - Saturday’s Hahnenkamm downhill can proceed as scheduled, as an official training run was completed Thursday morning on “The Streif.”
Despite steady snow falling throughout a majority of the session, race officials were aptly able to send all competitors down the mountain. 64 athletes were scheduled on the second training run startlist, with 61 leaving the gate.
Canada’s Erik Guay was the first racer to kick out of the starthouse at 10:45am, finding his way down the course and posting a time of 2:03.60. Last year’s World Cup super-G champion was clocked at 133.6 kph in the Zielschuss.
“In my head it was going to be a lot harder and a lot faster, I mean don’t get me wrong Kitzbühel is never easy,” said Guay after his run. “It’s been three weeks that I haven’t been on skis so as you could imagine I was a little nervous in the start, he said, referring to a recent back injury.
“It was a bit of a high speed inspection,” he said, insinuating that he didn’t ski at full throttle; however his run was still solid enough for eighth place. “I wasn’t that committed, but it is what it is and it’s good to be down bottom here in the finish.”
Thursday’s fastest time belonged to two-time Hahnenkamm champion, Didier Cuche. The Swiss veteran’s time of 2:01.12, was 0.37 better than Italy’s Christof Innerhofer, who finished second. Austria’s Georg Streitberger ended third, 1.18 slower than Cuche.
American Bode Miller was fourth, while last Saturday’s Lauberhorn winner from Wengen, Klaus Kroell, finished fifth.
Wearing bib No. 5, Hans Grugger of Austria lost his balance in mid-air coming off the Mausefalle jump, became somewhat twisted, and crashed hard, ultimately sliding down the track.
The 29-year-old Austrian was airlifted off the mountain by helicopter, resulting in an approximate 30-minute delay. According to initial information, Grugger has suffered a traumatic brain and chest injury.
2006 champion and the tour’s current downhill leader, Michael Walchhofer, took his turn as scheduled, despite hurting his throat and banging his left knee during training on Wednesday, the misfortune of having a gate come back and smack him following a straddle. The veteran Austrian – who has declared that Saturday’s race in Kitzbühel will be his last – took it relatively easy, but still completed his run in tenth place, 2.58 seconds off Cuche’s benchmark.
In general, racers were very satisfied with conditions on the legendary piste, despite warm temperatures yesterday and the cancellation of the originally scheduled training due to mixed precipitation, soft snow and organizers seeking to prevent further deterioration of the course.
“The snow is pretty hard, not so soft,” said France’s Adrien Theaux. “It’s very bumpy at the top and at the end. In the middle, I think it’s more difficult than last year.”
“The course is fine, it will be good with weather like this,” said Canada’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis, referring to the colder temperatures on Thursday.
American rookie Travis Ganong, 22, successfully made his first-ever trip down the legendary Streif course.
“I was a little nervous at the top, but once I started skiing and made it through that first section, I came out to the road and was like ‘wow, that is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,’” said an enthusiastic Ganong in the finish area. “It was awesome. It worked out better than I expected.”
The young Californian acted like a kid in a candy store after completing his run on the occasionally treacherous piste. On the walk out through the stadium, Ganong asked training run leader Cuche to pose for a photo with him. The three-time World Cup downhill champ obliged, as Ganong’s mother snapped the picture.
Instances like these are a quick reminder that Kitzbühel is surely a special place.
Racing begins tomorrow with the super-G slated to begin at 11:30am local time, while the 71st edition of the Hahnenkamm downhill is on tap for the same time on Saturday.
-By Brian Pinelli