A GREAT WEEKEND IN KITZ AND CORTINA, SCHLADMING NEXT!
We had a great weekend of racing in Kitz and Cortina which lived up to the hype and history in both places. Kitzbuehel continued to amaze and showed that it truly is ‘The Race” when it comes to downhill. Didier Cuche deserved that win like no other on any hill, anywhere. The fact that he grabbed his tuck position in the air off the Mausfalle made it obvious to me that he was not going to be denied on that day. Or at least was going to go down swinging. He executed and crushed it. There were a lot of other great stories on the day but he dominated. And Ivica Kostelic just continued to amaze extending his overall lead to 401 points over Zurbriggen! He seems to be running away with it at this point with over 1000 points already.
The slalom belonged to Grange and Kostelic knocked down another 180 points with second place and the Combi win. I do need to congratulate Nolan Kasper for his career best 12th place and also Mission Ridge Ski Team skier Colby Granstrom for his first really big-time World Cup start and for earning another shot at it in Schladming tomorrow!
In Cortina, Lindsey showed she is the queen of speed and all others will need to go through her to win the Downhill or SG crowns. She fumbled her way down the hill in the Downhill and still was able to grab 3rd place. She probably scared herself a couple of times this weekend which I am sure she can overcome. The same is true of Maria Riesch in that she proved that the Overall is going to go through her. Lindsey’s technical skiing has not been up to her standards of late and Maria has been extremely consistent across the board and there seems to be no answer for her from Lindsey. Obviously, Lins needs to get her slalom and GS in order soon if she is to compete for the Overall.
COMING UP, SCHLADMING!
After the glitz, crowds, stress and noise of Kitzbuehel, the tech boys get to move on to Schladming. Normally, we would get packed up and head to Schladming as soon as possible. About 2 ½ hours of driving and we would arrive at the Gasthof Tetter in Untertal, behind the Planai in a very quiet valley and removed from all the noise. The Familie Meissnitzer always has taken care of us with their wonderful hospitality and fantastic food. They would have dinner waiting for us on arrival after calling us while we drove to find out what time we would arrive. We would quickly put our stuff in our rooms (names on the doors) and immediately head to the dining room for an excellent dinner. We would be able to sleep late on Monday and organize ourselves for the hectic Tuesday training and getting ready for the long night on the Planai in front of almost 70,000 people in some years. It is a great day and a half to spend at the Tetter and get that little vacation.
“The Night Race” on the Planai is just about the most amazing ski race I have ever seen. When the teams would arrive and settle into the “teams’ rooms” beneath the gondola, the crowds would already be massing to watch inspection and see their heroes. We would hop on the Gondola and possibly get some warm up on the upper Planai but more often than not we had already trained a little down the road in Reiter Alm and then headed for inspection. Still light when we got there for the inspection, there would already be about 5 thousand fans there watching and trying to get the attention of the athletes from outside the fences. Usually, the surface there would be polished injection and the lights would reflect off the shiny surface. The hill is tough and long with a very big vertical drop. Requiring 62 turns to meet minimum, it takes some tighter sections to make that number. Pavel Cebulj (SLO) and Marko Pfeifer (SWE). Pavel has little experience setting on this hill but he has a lot of experience on the tour. Marko has set on the Planai before and he will try to keep it close to minimum I am sure as the Swedes tend to link to bring more of a carving approach to the sport. Andre and Jens definitely have a longer natural turn than many of the others and Hargin can definitely ski fast with more distance. As well, Marko gets to use the right side of the hill which covers more ground on the corner and allows for a slightly more open set than the first run. Either way, the first run in Schladming can be a grinder and tough to stay with the rhythm toward the finish. The last roll before the finish line has caught many a racer over the years. As well, there is usually a flush on a false-flat before that last roll and that often causes major problems because the speed gets very high.
This is absolutely the best slalom race on the circuit because it is at night and because it is in the heart of Austria. The crowd is huge, crazy and armed with flares. There are luminaries in the finish area. We have seen our American Ambassador to Austria at the race; we have seen the Austrian President in some years. It is a big show and worth the price of admission. And it is definitely worth tuning in on Universal Sports to check it out LIVE at 8:45 AM Tuesday morning on the West Coast.
So who to look for tomorrow? Lizeroux is out, so forget about him. The Austrians get very fired up for this one and can really look to stuff the top 5. They always have gotten it done here. Last year Herbst won, Pranger was 3rd and Benni 4th. I could see something like that again but I am still not sold on the boot choice made by Pranger and Herbst and I think it will continue to mess with their consistency. Especially in a place like Schladming. Hirscher should be right in there again. Kostelic, of course you need to have him on the steps somewhere. Grange has been excellent of late but has a tough history in Schladming. He was 2nd in 2008 but was a DNF in 2009 and injured last season. I have faith in him as a slalom skier so I think he is worth a pick as well. Moelgg has been good here over the years and seems to be consistent of late. Watch out for Mario Matt! He has 3 top tens this week and has 3 podiums with 2 wins at Schladming.
Ted is still the marquee slalom skier on the American squad but he has company of late. Nolan Kasper has been coming on with excellent Europa Cup results and a 12th in Kitz yesterday and was 7th on the second run. He also scored last year in Schladming so he brings recent confidence and success on this hill into the race. He could crack his first top 10 on the World Cup! Also look for Chodounsky to bounce back and get another score. As well, for this season, the World Championship selection criteria includes this race which has not always been the case in the past. Ted, Dave, Nolan and Will have points and look to be the team. This obviously excludes Bode at the moment but one big result and that could change dramatically. And Bode enjoys drama and has a very good history in Schladming. Adding to the mix is Mission Ridge Ski Teamer, Colby Granstrom who will get his 3rd start this season and his first at this very big show. Relax, ski fast and enjoy the experience Colby, because this is as good as it gets.
Julien Cousineau had a great night last year finishing 5th. Mike Janyk was 12th and was likely pretty disappointed with that finish. Mike has been top 10 two different times here in almost two different careers, one in 2005 and one in 2009. But the rest of the guys have been pretty average in Schladming. Whether that is the relentless hill or the crowd or the big moment, none of us really know. Biggs has scored here a few times but it is pretty clear that the over the last 6 seasons, only Janyk, Cousi and Biggs have scored. Obviously, Thomas Grandi did but he is retired. Anyway, my point is that the rest of the Canadian slalom crew needs to step up on the biggest slalom stage and help support Janyk and Cousi and Biggs.
Watch the Japanese here. They have a good history on this hill and they are good at short-distance slalom, of which we can expect sections of, at least. Last year, Naoki and Akira were 8 and 9. Naoki has scored 3 straight years, improving each season. And Saki-bomb has been in the top 10 4 times including a podium! Watch out.
Hirscher, Grange, Moelgg and I think there are a lot of major mistakes in both runs. A war of attrition is what I think will happen. Moelgg has 6 top 7 finishes and 2 podiums, and a 4th place.