Switzerland’s Didier Cuche toyed with quitting, but on Saturday the 37-year-old ski racer proved he’s still at the top of his sport winning the men’s World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alta.
This his fifth podium here: He also won the downhill in 2009, and he has been third in the super giant slalom three times. He’ll race in the super G on Sunday.
Racing in light snow and limited visibility, Cuche crushed the field of 69 racers in a time of 1 minute 47.28 seconds. He narrowly edged his teammate, 24-year-old Beat Feuz, who was just 0.06 seconds behind. Austrian Hannes Reichelt, 31, finished third in a time of 1:47.36, just 0.08 seconds back.
During training Cuche, who is the reigning downhill and super giant slalom champion, confessed that he hasn’t had the easiest time on this track.
“I used to struggle to go fast, but I feel more comfortable every year I come back here,” he said.
He clocked a top speed of 129.9 kilometres per hour during the race.
Switzerland and Austria have a history of jockeying for the post as the world’s No. 1 ski nation.
As the kick off to the World Cup speed circuit - and the only Canadian stop on the tour - Lake Louise is not considered a particularly tough course. With a vertical drop of 800 metres over three kilometres, racers say it’s a track that is challenging to gain and maintain speed.
Heavy snowfall this week also made it rough for course crews to groom the track to the rock-hard icy standards the athletes prefer. During training runs, some skiers complained that the track was soft, slow and bumpy. Conditions improved for race day.
The top Canadian was Calgary’s Jan Hudec, 30, who finished 12th, 1.05 seconds off the pace. Hudec, troubled by back problems took Friday off from training, and over his career has endured seven major knee operations.
“All things considered, I had one of the best runs of my life,” Hudec said after the race, “I started skiing two weeks before Lake Louise and I’m just happy to be here and able to perform at this level.”
Robbie Dixon, 26, of Whistler, who competed in his first race since he suffered a severe concussion almost a year ago, finished 25th in a time of 1:48.90.
Erik Guay, 30, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., who was the top performer in training, finished well back of the pack in 44th. He too is battling a lingering back injury.
“I wasn’t expecting big things coming into this weekend,” he said, “I kind of knew that my skiing wasn’t consistent.”
Noticeably absent from the race was former downhill World Championship winner John Kucera, who was hoping to make his comeback here this weekend. The 27-year-old from Calgary badly broke his leg during a 2009 race at Lake Louise, but when he re-fractured it earlier this year, it further delayed his return.
Kucera, who took part in training runs and was a forerunner for Saturday’s downhill, has decided to hold off on rejoining the circuit for another few weeks.