Czech ends Pucketts skiercross win streak
SNOWMASS Finally somebody beat Casey Puckett in a skiercross final.Although, after Czech racer Stanley Hayer blew past Puckett and two others to win Friday’s Honda Ski Tour skiercross at Snowmass, succeeding where so many others had previously failed, he modestly said: “I don’t know if I beat Casey, or he beat himself today.”Good point.Puckett, a resident of Old Snowmass, nearly wiped out during a thrilling semifinal heat while navigating a tricky section of roller jumps. He regained his balance and held on to finish second and advance, but the miscue cost him with the fourth pick for starting position in the final.He started in the undesirable far right gate (skier’s left), and only compounded his disadvantage with a poor start that immediately put him in the back of the pack. When he tried to move ahead of third-place finisher Enak Gavaggio, his skis skidded out on loose snow, ending his day – and the streak.”It’s tough coming from fourth, especially because I have less experience doing it,” said Puckett, who won gold at the Winter X Games gold last month. “I’m usually out front.”World champion skiercrosser Tomas Kraus – also from the Czech Republic – snatched the early lead, but was overtaken by a hard-charging Hayer, who held on for the win.
It was the first major skiercross win for the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Hayer, who retired from the World Cup circuit two years ago. After runner-up finishes to Puckett at the first two Ski Tour stops at Sun Valley, then Breckenridge, Hayer now leads the tour’s overall standings.”Second-place is great, but there’s always that, ‘Oh, I should have been a little bit faster,’ or ‘Oh, I could have done this different,”‘ said Hayer, who picked up a $25,000 prize check. “Today, I can’t say that.”The rolling, winding course at Snowmass kept racers off balance all day and, as most competitors said, was the toughest track they’d seen on the tour this year.Kraus, one of the sport’s most decorated veterans, said it was arguably the toughest course he’d ever seen.Gavaggio – who has a total of six medals from the Winter X Games – compared it to running super G with three people next to you.”Very, very cool,” he said. “It was technical and tactical.”If the trying course wasn’t enough, racers had to deal with flat light, and in the early rounds, off-and-on snow flurries. The opening heats were delayed more than two hours because of the weather.
“It was difficult enough just to go down by yourself,” Puckett said. “It was a long course, about 60 seconds, so often timesyou’d get lost and not know exactly whether to press the jump or pop it or whatever and you can get yourself in trouble. When you add four guys to the course, it’s really difficult to concentrate on any course, and on that one, it made for a difficult day.”It was an especially difficult day for Frisco’s Jake Fiala – a former World Cup speed skier – who crashed hard during the semifinal on the same rollers section that nearly ate up Puckett.Fiala got off balance, then turned around on his skis and smacked the back of his head hard against the snow. He was taken off the course on a sled. In the second semifinal, another crash appeared imminent as Hayer, Gavaggio and Zach Crist barreled into a jump midway down the course in a tight pack, but all three managed to stay upright. Crist – a former Olympic teammate of Puckett’s – looked to be on the verge of passing both racers at the time, but lost some speed and ended his day in third, after rallying from dead last to win his quarterfinal heat.One of the skiers Crist passed in the thrilling quarterfinal was Vail’s Chris Del Bosco.
As for his impressive winning streak coming to an end, Puckett was gracious in defeat – and noted his losing made for a more exciting tour.”Basically, it comes right down to the final,” he said. “Whoever advances further is going to win the overall, and that’s definitely more exciting than having a guy out there and you can’t touch him. For the sake of the excitement and the TV show, I think it’s great that it’s so close.”The Ski Tour’s final stop is at Squaw Valley March 8-11.”The semifinals was a battle, I’m glad I got through it,” Hayer added. “The finals worked out. Skiercross is a little bit of chance and luck also, and everything kind of worked for me today. I think the other guys have had their days. To beat Casey, he’s amazing. Tomas is always fast. And this year I’ve been consistent, so I think we’ve got three pretty big horses here.” Puckett concurred there is always some chance when it comes to winning in skiercross, but at the same time acknowledged the best skiers are the ones consistently near the top of the field. There was some luck to his streak, but it wasn’t the primary factor.”I’ve felt extremely lucky to have the sort of win streak that I’ve had, especially falling in the semifinals in Breckenridge and everything else,” he said. “On the same token, you see the same guys in the finals a lot. So, as much as it looks like a roll of the dice and a lot of things happen, the same guys tend to make it to the finals, and that just speaks to having strength in all the areas. … You can’t just have a great start, you can’t just be fast. You have to have all those factors. If you do, then you cross your fingers and hope that it goes well.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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