Erik Guay skied hard and leaned into the finish line, even though it was the first of three training runs for the opening downhill race of the season.
Some racers take it easier in early training runs at World Cups and come out of their racing tuck before the finish area. Guay’s intensity Wednesday drew ribbing from a couple of European competitors along the lines of “save it for race day.”
The Canadian’s response was a little salty, but the gist of it was he didn’t care. The 32-year-old from Mont-Tremblant, Que., was fastest in the first training run of the 2013-14 season. The first World Cup downhill race is Saturday in Lake Louise, Alta.
Knee surgery in July kept Guay from participating in the Canadian team’s summer glacier camps. The 2011 world downhill champion didn’t get back on snow until earlier this month and he arrived at the Alberta resort thinking he had catching up to do.
“I wanted to go hard. I’m surprised that I’m fast,” Guay said. “I didn’t think I’d be winning the run. That’s why I was tucking until the end.
“I haven’t skied seven months in the summer. There’s going to be a certain amount of mileage you need to find that race pace. I think there’s room for improvement, but technically I skied really well. For a first day, it doesn’t get any better.”
Guay’s time was one minute 50 seconds, which was two-tenths of a second faster than Steven Nyman of the U.S. Patrick Kueng of Switzerland was third in 1:50.29.
Vancouver’s Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished sixth and Calgary’s Jan Hudec 10th in what they said were the best weather and snow conditions they’ve ever had at Lake Louise, although flurries are forecasted for Saturday’s downhill and Sunday’s super-G.
Norway’s Axel Lund Svindal, a double winner at Lake Louise last year, was 16th.
Hudec won the downhill at Lake Louise in 2007 and Osborne-Paradis the super-G in 2009. Guay earned downhill silver in 2003 and with 19 World Cup medals, he is one away from tying the Canadian record of 20 held by Steve Podborski.
Guay also won the overall World Cup super-G crown in 2010.
Edi Podivinsky’s bronze in 1992 was the last time a Canadian man won an Olympic medal in alpine skiing. Guay has come agonizingly close to ending that drought. He was fourth in super-G in 2006 and fifth in both downhill and super-G in 2010.
Guay remains a medal contender at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. He’s dealt with recurring knee and back issues in recent years, so his priority is to stay healthy and be skiing fast in February.
“There’s still plenty of time to build up and not be too hard on myself if the result’s not quite there Saturday,” Guay said. “That being said, the goals are to be fast.”
Guay and his wife Karen have two daughters and are expecting a third child March 21. Guay may be short on preparation for this important season of racing, but he also has a dozen years of racing experience from which to draw.
“I think that I’m old enough that I can rely on my experience,” he said. “I don’t need months of training in the summer.”
“The side I’m learning a lot about is the sport psych side of it. It’s not just physical, it’s not just technical. A huge part of it is mental and how you approach it, perspectives and goals and ambitions that you set for yourself. I’ve always been competitive and wanted to win.”
Lake Louise was once a glider’s course, but there are wrinkles built into this year’s track, according to Hudec.
“Tons of new terrain,” he said. “Now they’re adding one piece of new terrain every gate like a roll or a dip or a side hill. Some of the gates even have two or three in one turn. You really can’t lose concentration.
“It makes it more challenging mentally, but physically as well. You see that today with guys flying all over the place on these bumps.”
As the host country, Canada can enter seven men in this weekend’s World Cup races. There were nine participating in training Wednesday.
Conrad Pridy of Whistler, B.C., was 26th and Jeffrey Frisch of Mont-Tremblant, Que., finished 29th. Ben Thomsen of Whistler was 47th and Dustin Cook of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., finished 54th. Conrad’s brother Morgan was 73rd and Robbie Dixon, also of Whistler, was 75th.
Calgary’s John Kucera, the 2009 world downhill champion and winner of the super-G at Lake Louise in 2006, is not racing this week because of vestibular neuritis, an inner ear condition that causes vertigo and nausea.