After being shut out of the downhill top 10 at the World Alpine Ski Championships two weeks ago, the Austrian men’s speed team managed to redeem itself before the home crowd, sweeping the podium on the Schneekristall of Saalbach Saturday.
Not since 1994 have the men raced downhill in Saalbach. The 2015 version of the hill follows an entirely new line up top and intersects with the previous race trail near the bottom, ultimately finishing in essentially the same spot. The Schneekristall, as it turns out, was one of the toughest tests of the season, packed with sharp terrain and big air from top to bottom. Those who were able to remain compact and command control throughout the wild ride fared the best.
You didn’t need a Schneekristall ball to know this was probably going to be the Austrians’ race. The team had an opportunity to train on the hill in advance of the race and in the first official training run, the group made a major statement occupying most of the top 10.
Results were a little more scattered on race day, but the home team secured the three spots that matter most — Matthias Mayer, Max Franz and Hannes Reichelt sweeping the podium in that order.
Interestingly enough, the day’s winner, Mayer, did not have an opportunity to train the hill with his teammates because he remained Beaver Creek longer for GS qualification (although he didn’t ultimately race the event). The win was Mayer’s first since World Cup Final last season.
“The light today was, of course, very flat,” Mayer said. “It was much more difficult than the training runs. You couldn’t see the rolls and bumps today. It was really tough, and you had to risk everything.”
Mayer finished with a time of 1 minute, 49.83 seconds, just two-hundredths ahead of the pace set by Franz.
“It hasn’t been an easy season for us,” added the Mayer. “We really had to fight. I finished second place this year three times — fourth place in the super G at World Champs — so I’m very happy about this win today. … To be on the podium with two teammates makes this race even more special. It’s an awesome feeling for us today.”
A bit further down the podium, it couldn’t have been two more contrasting performances for the runner-up Franz and smooth-skiing Reichelt. Running ninth, Franz skied an unruly run, enduring several bobbles and getting popped out of position over key jumps. With a hard-charging final spilt, however, his run proved to be fast — but not quite fast enough to claim his first career World Cup win.
“Two hundredths — damn. I didn’t have a very good run up top,” said Franz. “I didn’t have a very good first split and (that’s where) I lost the race today. The last part was really fast.”
After skiing the fastest opening training run on Thursday, Kjetil Jansrud didn’t make things any easier for himself in the chase for the overall title. The Norwegian trailed Marcel Hirscher by 180 points emerging from the World Championship hiatus. With a disappointing 14th-place result, Jansrud was able to make a slight 18-point gain, resulting in a 162-point deficit currently.
After the race, Jansrud said he didn’t ski as he had hoped. He got thrown around a bit too much but remains hopeful he can finish the season on a strong note and make a run at the title. On a positive note for the Attacking Vikings, younger teammate Aleksander Kilde demonstrated a strong return from early season injury by finishing 12th from bib 51.
As for the Americans, Wiley Maple, coming off a stint on the Europa Cup, threw down an amazing run from bib 46 to lead his countrymen in 17th.
“It was a pretty fun track. It’s been awesome all week — a little dark today, which kind of made it a little more fun,” said Maple. “I just tried to let her go and really held on.”
And Marco Sullivan, after being omitted from the World Champs start list, charged to his best result since Lake Louise, 19th, on a track that has almost nothing in common with the one in Alberta. Sullivan skied the fastest top split by 0.57 seconds but couldn’t hang on through the bottom.
“I feel like everyone skied well and had good spots — it’s just a really tough course,” said Sullivan. “Guys were trying to really push hard. The light was bad with lots of bumps. It just didn’t work out for us.”
Battling a stomach bug and waking up with a fever, Travis Ganong did not start. Steven Nyman got knocked off balance over a tough jump, crashed and slid to a safe standstill. Jared Goldberg and Andrew Weibrecht also failed to finish. Canadian Ben Thomsen proved to be the fastest North American on the day in eighth, he best World Cup result since 2012.
“It’s good to see Marco picking up his pace and starting to throw down,” said Nyman. “I glad with my crash that everything is fine. I was just a little out of control right from the start. This course, you’ve got to know what you’re doing and be confident moving over the terrain — or it will eat you up.”
The World Cup men will next race super G at Saalbach on Sunday.
By Hank McKee
1 Mayer, Head/Head/Head
2 Franz, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
3 Reichelt, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
4 Janka, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol
5 Poisson, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
6 Kriechmayr, Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
7 Theaux, Head/Head/Head
8 Fill, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
8 Thomsen, Head/Head/Head
10 Baumann, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
Men’s World Cup downhill, Saalbach, Austria, Feb. 21, 2015:
- It is the 26th race of the men’s 38 race World Cup schedule. … The first race after the World Championship break. … It is the seventh of 11 scheduled downhills … It is the 27th World Cup race held at least in part at Saalbach, the eighth downhill. … The last men’s World Cup downhill at the site was a two-run downhill in 1994. … Fastest in training one was Kjetil Jansrud, in two was Max Franz.
- It is the second career World Cup win for Matthias Mayer, the previous in downhill at Lenzerheide in last season’s finals. … He is also the Olympic downhill champion. … The winning margin is .02 of a second. … Top eight skiers are within same second. … Top 20 within two seconds.
- It is the third career World Cup podium placing for Max Franz. … He has yet to win a World Cup race. … He was also second at Lake Louise Nov. 24, 2012.
- It is the 32nd World Cup podium for Hannes Reichelt and his fifth of the season. … It is the first Austrian podium sweep since the Schladming GS March 17, 2012.
- It is he third best career World Cup placing for Benjamin Thomsen and his best performance since 2012. … It is a career best World Cup placing for Wiley Maple in his third career score. … Marco Sullivan matches his 41st best World Cup result.
- Both Fernando Schmed of Switzerland and Blaise Giezendanner of France scored their first World Cup points.
- Marcel Hirscher (did not race) leads the World Cup overall standings 1014-852 over Kjetil Jansrud (14th in race). … Felix Neureuther (did not race) is third at 662pts. … Ted Ligety (did not race) is the top American overall in 12th place with 420pts.
- Jansrud leads the downhill standings 852-603 over Dominik Paris. … Mayer moves to third ith 527pts. … Steven Nyman (DNF in race) is seventh with 254pts and Travis Ganong (did not start) is eighth with 191pts.
|12||51||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||1:50.97||+1.14||12.97|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|39||400281||VAN HEEK Marvin||1991||NED|