Swiss dominate Lake Louise downhill
Didier Cuche captures 18th World Cup victory, Jan Hudec top Canadian in 12th
Didier Cuche is constantly asked about when he'll retire from ski racing.
But why stop when the 37-year-old just keeps winning?
The Swiss veteran claimed another victory Saturday in the season-opening downhill at the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup.
It was a one-two finish for the Swiss as Beat Fuez, 24, joined Cuche on the podium. Austrians took positions three to five with Hannes Reichelt in third, Romed Baumann fourth and Klaus Kroell fifth.
Calgary's Jan Hudec was the top Canadian in 12th.
Cuche won both the overall World Cup downhill and super-G last season. His four other World Cup titles — three downhill and a super-G — all came after he turned 33. Cuche also won the world super-G title at age 35.
What keeps Cuche going is driving across the finish line to see his name light up in green letters at the top of the leaderboard, instead of red letters below.
"If it's green, it's perfect," he said. "If it's red, you start to focus on the next day and hope you get the green light."
Not so long in the tooth
Cuche will look for his name in green lights again Sunday in the super-G. While Cuche won the downhill at Lake Louise two years ago, he's never won super-G. Instead, he's finished third three times at the mountain resort west of Calgary.
Cuche was asked yet again the timetable for the end of his skiing career after his 18th career World Cup victory Saturday.
Cuche took the question good-naturedly, joking about looking in the mirror and seeing laugh lines around his eyes. But he says since questions about his retirement started four years ago, it's time to start hounding other skiers who are getting long in the tooth about their career expiration dates.
"Now there are some guys who were the same age as me four years ago like [American] Bode Miller. Older guys born in '77," Cuche pointed out. "You should maybe ask them if they should continue or quit?"
Cuche isn't even the oldest on the speed circuit. Patrick Jaerbyn of Sweden, who finished 54th Saturday, is 42.
Cuche clocked in at one minute 47.28 seconds, with Fuez finishing in 1:47.34 and Reichelt in 1:47.36.
Hudec was 1.05 seconds back of the leader. A sore back kept Hudec from participating in summer snow camps, so he was satisfied with his result.
"I'm close," Hudec said. "I started skiing two weeks before Lake Louise.
"All things considered, I had one of the best runs of my life. Made a couple of mistakes, but skied the parts I wanted to ski well."
Conditions tough early
Hudec was the second skier out of the gates. Drawing that start bib can be an advantage because the course is pristine with no ruts.
But snow fell heavily on the track to start the race. Conditions improved for later skiers as the snow tapered off and the sun peaked out to improve visibility.
"It's disheartening when you wake up and it's just puking snow because it makes the track quite slow," Hudec said.
Erik Guay of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was also short of off-season snow training because of a herniated disc in his back. The reigning world downhill champion was 44th.
"When you're not skiing it the way you want, you're dropping time every turn and it adds up to a big number at the bottom," Guay said. "I'm happy to get that first one under the belt and I'm happy the back is doing well."
Despite previous success at Lake Louise, Cuche says there are other mountains where he feels more confident. He was well off the pace in training runs Thursday and Friday.
"Actually I always struggle to be fast here in Lake Louise, especially in the downhill," Cuche said. "I was on the podium three or four times in the super-G, but before the win two years ago I was maybe once top five.
"It's a hard course to be fast. You need to attack. You need to glide. You need find a good mix between pushing hard and letting the ski goes. Today, I think I had a lot of help with my skis and my material."
Swiss get best of Austrians
The Swiss dominated the day with a mix of experience and youth. Cuche is a hero to Fuez.
"He's the old guy and I'm the young guy so we complete each other," Fuez said through an interpreter. "Of course he's a ski legend and a great guy and to be second behind him, it gives an even sweeter taste to my podium finish."
Reichelt's result was the most surprising of the day. He'd drawn starting bib No. 45 and it is rare that a skier outside the top 30 reaches the podium.
The 31-year-old had hoped for a top-15 result, but earned his first World Cup medal in downhill.
"I came into the finish and when I saw third place, I was surprised," the Austrian said. "It's great because Lake Louise is not my slope. Normally we are not friends but now, we're becoming friends."
In the Swiss-Austrian ski rivalry, the Swiss prevailed Saturday.
"It's one race where the Swiss guys are better," Reichelt countered. "We'll try tomorrow, or at Beaver Creek [next week], to kick the Swiss off the podium."
Calgary's John Kucera, the 2009 world downhill champion, didn't race Saturday. He hasn't competed since breaking his leg in the Lake Louise downhill two years ago.
After participating in both training runs, Kucera decided he needed more training. He wants to finish in the top 30 and protect his ranking which was frozen when he was injured.
Robbie Dixon of Whistler, B.C., was 25th, Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., 34th, Louis-Pierre Helie of Berthierville, Que., 46th and Kelby Halbert of Bradford, Ont., 52nd. Ottawa's Ryan Semple and Conrad Pridy of Whistler tied for 59th and Dustin Cook of Lac Sainte Marie, Que., was 63rd.