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World Cup downhill chase up for grabs after Svindal injury

With World Cup downhill leader Aksel Lund Svindal out for the season, the competition will look very different this weekend in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Canada's 'King of Garmisch' Erik Guay set to compete in German race

Canadian Erik Guay is one of the skiers looking to capitalize on the World Cup leader's absence at this weekend's race in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. (Alexis Boichard/Getty Images)

A big injury has changed the course of the men's downhill season.

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who holds a massive lead in the World Cup standings, crashed during last week's event on the notoriously dangerous Streif course in Kitzbuehel, Austria. He ruptured a ligament in his right knee and is out for the season.

Steve Podborski, a former Olympic and World Cup alpine ski racer, expects to see the ripples from Svindal's departure at this weekend's World Cup downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on Saturday (CBCSports.ca, 5:15 a.m. ET).

"I think it's a big change," Podborski says. "Frankly, Svindal owned those guys.

"[Before he was out], you weren't really planning on trying to win the race or trying to beat him. He was clearly the class in the field."

Indeed, before his crash, Svindal had won four of the five previous downhills, building a 145-point lead over Italy's Peter Fill.

Podborski says we won't see racers ski differently with Svindal gone, but a big part of the mental game will change now that winning is a realistic option.

"It will be good for your ego and it gives other guys the thought of 'maybe I can plan on winning today' as opposed to hope to win," Podborski says.

Canada's 'King of Garmisch'

​Canadian Erik Guay is one athlete who could reap benefits from Svindal's departure. 

Currently ranked 10th in the downhill, Guay has made the downhill podium in Garmisch four times, including a victory in 2007. He also won a super-G there in 2010 that clinched him the crystal globe as the World Cup season champion in that discipline.

Guay also holds the current course record — he skied a time of 1:58:41 at the 2011 world championships. 

"Most people are just hoping they're going to do OK, but I think Erik, when he gets in the start gate at Garmisch, is planning on doing well," Podborski says.


'Classic' course

No matter who is or isn't competing this weekend, the difficulty of the course will keep racers on their toes. Garmisch offers challenges from top to bottom in addition to poor visibility.

"What makes it especially tough is that the sun is blocked by the mountain really all day, so not only is it quite gloomy, the light is also extraordinarily flat so you can't see a darn thing," says Podborski, who won at Garmisch three times in the 1980s. 

But mastering Garmisch puts you among the world's elite — the track been conquered by the best ski racers of all time, and is considered one of the classics on the World Cup circuit. 

"You're following in their path just like when you're racing the F1 course in Monaco, or when you line up at centre court at Wimbledon," says Podborski. "And that is what makes it special.

"You literally ski with the greats, and you have a chance, if you really go at it, to become one."

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