By Brian Pinelli
It will surely seem quite strange – for racers, media and fans alike – when the speed season opens this weekend in Lake Louise and Didier Cuche is glaringly absent from the start list.
“I won’t be there,” said Cuche, who won last year’s downhill at Lake Louise, when asked about attending races in the Canadian Rockies resort. “I will be home sitting in front of the TV with a coffee watching with friends and family. Then I think I will realize that I have retired.”
After a storied career having spent nearly two decades on tour, accumulating 21 World Cup wins, six season discipline titles including four in downhill, a World Championship gold medal in 2009 and an Olympic silver medal in 1998, the Swiss star announced that he was retiring this past January 19th, just two days prior to capturing his record-breaking fifth Hahnenkamm downhill victory.
Cuche, 38, whose first World Cup start came in Bormio, Italy, in December 1993, emphasized that leaving the sport while still at the top was paramount to him, something he certainly has done, calling it quits after last season.
“For sure, I’m going to miss him – I think he should have kept going,” said Sweden’s Hans Olsson. “If I were him, I would change my mind for a few more years and win some more. He quit while he was still the best. I’d love to see him on tour for a couple more years.”
“No regrets,” said Cuche, in an interview with FIS, nine months after announcing his decision to retire.
Aksel Lund Svindal summated what Cuche brought to the sport, not only on the racehill, but also with his outspoken manner and wide range of opinions.
“He’s the downhill champion – he’s the man,” said Svindal. “I would also say he’s always been really fair with what he has had to say and additionally he’s a super nice guy and a legend.”
At a Head Press Conference before races in Sölden, his former competitor and friend, Marco Büchel, who was serving as moderator, teased Cuche that he was expecting him to show up this winter with a “little bit of belly.”
“I’ve been doing a little bit of training and I hope I won’t get a belly soon,” said Cuche with a quick response.
Büchel then suggested that his golf game must be improving considering his newfound free time. Cuche replied with the feistiness that he often displayed, particularly with the media, before and after important World Cup races.
“I wasn’t only playing golf – I was also doing some training to keep up my strength,” said Cuche, who is a nine handicap on the golf course, once again stressing that he is still training.
For the 38-year-old Cuche, he will keep occupied working with his corporate partners, possibly provide some TV commentary at February’s World Championships in Schladming, and also teach and support young ski racers near his home in Neuchâtel.
“I will be around at a few races, busy with my partners and the winter is almost full,” says Cuche. “It’s good in a way, lots of fun, lots of skiing and coming back a few times to see the guys.”
Naturally, nowhere will Cuche be missed more than in Kitzbühel, a place that always brought out his best and where last season, he surpassed the legendary Franz Klammer, with his fifth triumph on the hallowed hill.
“Being back here and winning this race again is a great feeling,” said Cuche after his record-breaking win last January in Kitzbühel. “In my mind, those last few seconds before I pushed out of the start, I thought about this being my last time racing here and maybe it helped me to enjoy the run.”
Considering, that among active racers, only his Swiss teammate Didier Defago has ever won on the Streif, Cuche’s five victories is a benchmark that may stand for many years.
“If I could win in Kitzbühel two-or-three years in a row, then I’m starting to get there, but there’s a long way to go for anybody to do what Didier has,” said Svindal about the seemingly insuperable record.
Although Cuche will not be kicking out of the starthouse or launching himself through the air over the months ahead with the unparalleled intensity that made him a great champion, Svindal still considers the Swiss racer the best downhiller on the planet.
“Kröll won the globe last year, but for me, Cuche is still the downhill champion,” said the Norwegian veteran. “He’s got to win the globe a few more times before he really claims that title,” Svindal said referring to the Austrian.
Considering the dominant Swiss racer’s decision to hang up the skis, it appears that the 73rd Hahnenkamm downhill on January 21, will be entirely up for grabs.
“Anybody who wants to win any downhill race and especially the Hahnenkamm, your chances are much better since Didier retired,” said Svindal.
Lenzerheide 2011 - Didier with 6 discipline globes
Kitz 2011 - Cuche after 4th DH victory
Kitzbuehel 2012 - At press conference after win
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