Switzerland’s Beat Feuz finally wins the downhill at Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek
Special to the Vail Daily
BEAVER CREEK — Despite the snow starting right on cue with the first racer down the course of the 2018 Xfinity Birds of Prey Audi FIS World Cup downhill race on Friday, World Cup downhill champion Beat Feuz had determined to clinch a long-awaited Beaver Creek victory.
After finishing as a runner-up in the Birds of Prey downhill in 2011, 2014 and 2017, as well as earning a bronze medal in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships downhill, the Swiss powerhouse finally claimed the top step of the podium Friday, finishing in a time of 1 minute, 13.59 seconds on a shortened course. Feuz, who is among the shortest of the World Cup men’s downhill racers at 5-foot-8, said it was in fact the shortened course that allowed him to manage the win. Last year, he said he lost the race to Aksel Lund Svindal on the top, flat section of the course.
“My strength is not in the flats,” Feuz said through a translator after the race. “After the coaches told me that the start was moved down, I knew I would have a good chance to win. I have good memories here and I’m happy to make it to the top.”
Swiss teammate Mauro Caviezel was right on his heels, finishing 0.07 seconds off the pace while Svindal took the third step of the podium, 0.08 seconds back.
As snow and fog set in, racers launched out of the gate just above the super-G start at the top of The Brink. Things got off to an eventful start as the second racer on course, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, swung wide off of the steeps through the initial bank turn (Talons) and nearly went into the fence. After another couple close calls, he finished unscathed, but the Talons Turn proved problematic for numerous racers. The fourth racer down, France’s Adrien Theaux also had a wild ride, but finished with the green light, only to be immediately one-upped by Svindal.
Wearing bib No. 5, Svindal, who was racing with his left ski pole taped to a hand broken during training at Copper Mountain a few weeks before the race, did not believe that his time or position would hold up. But as a thick fog set onto the course, nobody was able to unseat him from the podium, his 13th at Beaver Creek. The Norwegian has won six times here, including last year in the downhill.
“It was a tight race, a day full of snow and changes in visibility,” Svindal said. “Last year was the perfect day for ski racing, no wind, sun … today was a little tougher. Today could have potentially been a race with very changing conditions and it ended up being a good race. I’m happy with it.”
Svindal went on to credit the hard-working Talon Crew for the fair and smooth course conditions that held up for all 65 starters in spite of the challenging weather. He then donated his podium prize bottle of Tincup Whiskey to the crew.
Following Feuz’s unmatched performance, German racer Thomas Dressen, who finished on the podium at last year’s Birds of Prey downhill, had the green light for the majority of his race but caught an edge on the bottom flats, crashing hard and sustaining a knee injury.
First podium for Caviezel
This did not deter Caviezel, the next racer down, who was thrilled about his first World Cup downhill podium. His other two podiums came in super-G, one at Lake Louise earlier this season and one in Aspen in 2017.
“It’s a special place,” said the Swiss racer. “With my first podium in downhill, I have to like this place. It wasn’t easy here. The podium was a little bit of a surprise for me. Maybe after my career, I’ll come back here and have some holidays.”
A handful of race favorites had disappointing performances, including Italian Peter Fill, who took a nasty spill just before Red Tail Jump near the bottom of the course, but managed to ski down apparently unhurt. Also, former Birds of Prey downhill champion (2014) and perennial top contender Kjetil Jansrud of Norway landed in 17th after a run in which he could not name any specific mistakes or slowing factors.
“I felt fast but clearly I wasn’t fast,” Jansrud said. “In hindsight, maybe I could say where I could have had more speed or changed my line. Visibility was good. The light was flat, but nothing too bad.”
Less than a half second separated the top seven finishers. Theaux held onto his fourth-place spot, 0.21 seconds off of the winning pace, while French teammate Johan Clarey and Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr tied for fifth, 0.26 seconds back. Austria’s Hannes Reichelt ended up seventh, 0.45 seconds back and Christian Walder eighth, 0.54 seconds back; while Steven Nyman and Bryce Bennett threw down the top American performance, tying for ninth place, 0.46 seconds off of the pace.
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American riders invited to compete in X Games from Jan. 29-31, who have continuously tested negative while in mandatory quarantine in Austria, are expected to compete at the event later this month in Aspen.