Norway hopes for success at downhill’s ‘Formula One’

Norway hopes for success at downhill's 'Formula One'
Aksel Lund Svindal. Photo: Cornelius Poppe / NTB scanpix
Aksel Lund Svindal and his Norwegian teammates on Thursday put the finishing touches to their preparation for Kitzbuehel's World Cup downhill, the alpine skiing equivalent of the Monaco Formula One race.
Svindal clocked 1min 58.14sec in the second training run down the “Streif” piste on the Hahnenkamm mountain in the picturesque Tyrolean resort.
That was enough for joint sixth alongside compatriot Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, with Kjetil Jansrud in 11th, 0.12sec adrift.
Unheralded Italian Mattia Casse was the pace setter, the 2010 world junior downhill champion improbably clocking 1:56.85 from a starting bib number of 47, to nip in ahead of teammate Christof Innerhofer.
The Norwegian men's team has dominated the alpine ski season so far, winning 12 of 19 races on offer in an incredible show of consistency including victories in all three races in Wengen last weekend.
“For this weekend it's top of the list because we're in Kitzbuehel and that's where the racing is!” the unflappable Svindal said of his winning ambitions in Austria.
“I would love to win it, but I wouldn't trade it for two victories anywhere else. It's the biggest World Cup race we have, but is it double the size of any other race? I don't think so. Of course I would love to win it, but if I don't win it, then I'll try again next year.”
Svindal said his victory in the Wengen downhill and second place behind Jansrud in the combined was a real boost before tackling the toughest course on the World Cup circuit.
“Confidence is always something you build, not something you wake up with one day,” he said. “So everything I've done this season should build some confidence for what's coming up.”
The Hahnenkamm remains the most prestigious speed event in one of the circuit's most iconic locations: racers touch 100km/h within 8.5 seconds of leaving the start and there have been some extremely gruesome crashes, notably Swiss racer Daniel Albrecht in 2009 and Austrian Hans Grugger in 2011.
'Very unforgiving'
Saturday's 76th running of the downhill, which made its debut in 1931, is over a piste more than 3.3 kilometres long, with racers reaching motorway-coasting speeds of 140km/h while being forced into negotiating 80-metre jumps.
“One of the things is that it is very unforgiving,” Svindal said of the Streif. “There are a lot of sections that if you go out, you don't miss a gate — you hit the net.
“It's like driving Formula One in Monaco, where there's no gravel or grass to roll out on if you don't take the corner but you go into a wall. Luckily there's no wall here!”
Italian speed specialist Innerhofer insisted he could be in the mix, but stressed he was not out to break the growing Norwegian hegemony.
“I don't think about this. I will do my race and then we will see,” Innerhofer said. “I don't think about overall or any globes. While Aksel and Hannes (Reichelt) can ski fast on every race, I must have steep parts and icy snow.
“The most important for me is to come through the finish line having given 100 percent risk.
“The key to Aksel's success is that last year he didn't ski. So he's come back with more passion. He stopped for one year but is now really enjoying his racing.”
The dangers of racing here were shown up when Austrian Florian Scheiber was airlifted off the course after losing a ski and crashing heavily into the safety netting.
France's Guillermo Fayed, standing third in the downhill standings behind Svindal and Reichelt, likened the extreme course to a personal battle.
“I have good and bad memories of this piste,” he said, having finished third last year for just his fourth ever podium finish.
“To arrive at the bottom in one piece is good, better to get a result. The course is like love: if it goes well, it's great, if not it's hellish!”
Fayed's teammate Adrien Theaux, who won December's downhill in Santa Caterina, Italy, and clocked the fastest time in Tuesday's training, again showed his form with fourth place.

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