By Patrick Lang
Last January, Felix Neureuther achieved quite an exciting performance at Kitzbühel winning the demanding slalom thirty years after his father Christian, one of the best gate specialists on the World Cup circuit in the 1970s.
Today, Silvan Zurbriggen accomplished a similar feat as he dominated all his rivals on the ‘Saslong’ course at Val Gardena to win the Italian World Cup ‘Classic’ twenty one years after his far cousin Pirmin, one of the great heroes on the tour in the 1980s.In both cases, the winners fully deserved their long awaited success after showing their potential at several occasions. Yet for the Swiss, it was quite a special triumph as he sees himself primarily as a slalom specialist - foremost because he suffered a gruelling crash on the same course a few years ago.
In fact, the 29-year-old who celebrated his maiden World Cup victory two years ago at Kitzbühel where he clinched the ‘classical’ Hahnenkamm combined, was pretty exhausted after the race when facing the press. Everybody was in fact quite surprised to see him showing no particular emotion when asked about his unexpected triumph.
“Yeah, I’m done, really tired now, it has been a very tough day for me and I just cannot show the strong emotion I’m feeling inside me right now, but I can tell you that I’m actually the happiest man on earth,” he told the media. “As you know I badly injured my knee here a few years ago and I was very lucky to get back on my skis after the surgery. The doctors did a fantastic job on my knee which had to be operated twice,” added Zurbriggen, whose first big moment was his silver medal in slalom at the 2003 FIS World Championships at St Moritz.
“I was afraid of these Camel Jumps during my practise runs this week, I could not take all risks there,” Zurbriggen also said. “I didn’t sleep well last night, I got up early and I was nervous before the race.”
“So to win my first downhill here is pretty amazing, in fact even crazy. At the start I watched the first skiers getting down the course on TV so I saw the bad crashes from Marco Sullivan and David Poisson. I was very impressed of course and then a lot of bad memories came back to my mind. I suddenly felt very hot and I had to produce a great effort to find back my concentration and my determination.”
“Fortunately I had a pretty solid clean run from top to bottom afterwards and then I saw that I had the fastest time when I crossed the finish line, it was amazing,” also commented the Swiss who never scored a single World Cup point in downhill here until today. “I had a hard time believing it, but in a way it’s a great revenge after all.”
This superb win is not a total surprise for Zurbriggen’s colleagues considering his promising 4th place at Lake Louise last month. He was proud to wear the read leader bib at the award ceremony but he doesn’t plan to defend his lead in a few weeks at Bormio.
“I’m not sure yet about my program after tomorrow’s giant slalom at Alta Badia, my original plan for this season was to relax during the Christmas break in order to tank some energy prior the heavy January schedule,” he explained at the press conference.
“It’s a heavy program for me as I aim to compete in the combined events and in all the technical races, so it’s important for me not to race too much now. I know that I’m also leading the overall standings, but this doesn’t mean too much for me now as there are still so many events to come. I’ll talk to the trainers and see how I feel after tomorrow competition. For sure I would enjoy spending some time at home after Christmas.”
In Sunday’s exciting giant slalom, another Swiss ‘outsider’ is hoping to accomplish another impressive performance – Daniel Albrecht, a former winner on the ‘Gran Risa’. He was so happy with his race at Beaver Creek that he expects an even better result from himself on that challenging terrain.
What an irony in fact! Carlo Janka and Didier Cuche were supposed to keep on dominated the tour but so far the front runners were underdogs as Tobias Gruenenfelder, the winner in Super-G at Lake Louise, Daniel Albrecht at Beaver Creek and now Silvan Zurbriggen!