Austrians Marcel Hirscher, Benjamin Raich and Romed
Baumann celebrate in the Val d’Isere finish area.
“I can feel I’m getting nearer and nearer to victory,” said
Marcel Hirscher after the Val d’Isere combined. Yep.
The Val d’Isere course was not kind to Carlo Janka.
It was not a pretty weekend but it sure changed things.
The Swiss strutted into Val d’Isere — and limped out.
The French were happy enough to be home, but had no placing better than
The Italians, on the other hand, were buoyed even as they looked forward to
their own chance to host on the immediate horizon, by three podiums and a
pair of fourths, a decidedly better weekend than the last.
The Austrians, off to what for them is a slow start to the season, simply made
fewer, or at least less significant, mistakes than anyone else and left Val d’Isere
with all three wins and six total podium placings to wrestle the Nations Cup
lead they’d owned for decades back into their fold.
The Americans took a rollercoaster ride, with a very big high on the course
and a low on the volleyball court.
The Canadian Cowboys had hats but no cattle; two placings in the 20s and
an injury to Jean-Philippe Roy were all they had to show for three races.
Welcome to the Alps.
The European Alps are the heart of World Cup ski racing and from Dec. 11
to 13, Val d’Isere’s Face de Bellevarde offered racers garnishes of poor visibility
and a softening surface. At its best, the Bellevarde is unique, technical, nasty
and difficult. For the men of the World Cup, it served an ample supply of
DNFs. Few, if any, of the best skiers in the world felt comfortable at any point
during the weekend.
The combined, the second of four on the men’s World Cup schedule this sea-
son, tested a wide variety of racing skills but favored the gate crashers during
the super G and slalom runs on the technically-oriented Bellevarde. Austrian
veteran Benjamin Raich possesses technical skills and made use of them, fin-
ishing fourth in the SG leg then turning on the juice for the fastest slalom
leg to keep his very young teammate Marcel Hirscher from the win. Italian
Manfred Moelgg, with myriad slalom podiums to his credit, got his first in
combined with the bronze, though his combined run time duplicated that of
yet a third Austrian, Romed Baumann.
Fifth, in something of a surprise, went to Bode Miller who last finished both
ends of a combined during the 2007-08 season. He has scored in 15 World
Cup combined races in his career and has been worse than fifth exactly once.
“Today didn’t feel very good for anyone I don’t think,” said Miller. Looking
down the line, he said, his absence from any combined finish orders in the
past season made it prudent to ski safely and get his rankings — and starting
positions — down to a manageable level.
To get back into the first seed “was important,” he said. “I pushed just hard
enough and got the job done. Miller admitted to running out of gas after a
summer devoid of any serious training. The skiing, he said, is coming along
just fine, “but the fitness is still a big problem.”
America’s other great hope, Ted Ligety, exited the course; he later said he
never got into the rhythm but felt the hill was particularly good for him,
words that would prove prophetic.
Also visionary in outlook was Hirscher, a 20-year-old multiple medalist at
world junior championships with no shortage of self-confidence. “This is very
good for all of us,” Hirscher told Reuters on behalf of his team. “I didn’t expect
Benni [Raich] would be so strong and I surprised myself a little bit as well. I
can feel I’m getting nearer and nearer to victory.”
The Swiss World Cup leader, Carlo Janka, failed to finish.
The super G on Saturday brought flurries, fog and racing a bumpy course by
Braille. The DNF rate was an extraordinarily high 46 percent.
“It was very steep and I couldn’t see a thing,” said the winner, Austrian Mi-
chael Walchhofer, adding that his chief concern was avoiding mistakes. “It