Lake Louise Preview: Game on
What can we expect at Lake Louise as training starts Wednesday (Nov. 21)? Lake Louise has hosted 84 World Cup races (plus half of a combined) dating back to 1980, but the latest incarnation of the site as a regular stop on the White Circus circuit, where the men and then the women roll into the huge Fairmont Chateau hotel on back to back weekends began in 1999. Tour organizers love the stop; there has not been a race cancellation yet, despite the November start.
The usual schedule holds this season; the men come in for a downhill Nov. 24 and a super G the next day. The women pass the men in the airport and race Nov. 30 through Dec. 2 with two downhills and a super G. In both cases they are the first speed races of the season and as such garner considerable interest. Not that one could tell that from the crowd. It is one of the amazing things about the early Lake Louise races, they are decidedly low key in a laid-back Canadian kind of way. There are fans, of course, but no where near the tens of thousands routinely found at many European sites. This makes for an amiable gathering for the racers, coaches and tech reps, a good chance to get reacquainted. Having everybody in the same hotel makes that all the easier.
The hill itself is a good opening track. Its' altitude can be an issue (it is the second highest on tour) but while the Men's Olympic Downhill Run (the official name) has its nuances, but it is not particularly tricky, nor scarey, nor steep. The trail it starts off on is listed on the trail map as Sunset Flats and the last section is Easy Street. It has jumps but they are not notably large. The surface can be challenging as early season snow is normally supplemented with man-made and can get exceptionally icy at times. And it has key sections where carrying speed - oh say out of Gun Barrel - is critical to a good result. It is a track where particular racers have found a way to be consistently superb on.
Renate Goetschl won five times, Isolde Kostner four times, Hermann Maier four times, Katja Seizinger six times and Lindsey Vonn and incredible 11 times, including three last season alone. On the other hand, a couple of notable speed skiing luminaries collected their first wins at Lake Louise: Stephan Eberharter and Vonn for example.
Last season's winners for the men were Didier Cuche in downhill and Aksel Lund Svindal in super G. It was Cuche's second win (he also took the 2009 DH) and the third super G win on the hill for Svindal, his previous two in 2005 and 2007.
Races are often closely contested. Last year the time separating 30th and first was 1.64 seconds. That's not a lot of time over a 3,000m course.
Of the men currently on the US team, with two time Lake Louise winner Bode Miller having bowed out as he recovers from knee surgery, the lone U.S. moments in the sun belongs to Marco Sullivan, a second place finish in 2007's downhill. He was also fifth in the 2008 super G. Ted Ligety scored an impressive eighth in 2009's super G, but hasn't scored in Canada since 2010. Steven Nyman last and best finish was 13th in 2007. Andrew Weibrecht tops of with a pair of 12th, both in 2009. Travis Ganong was 20th in 2010 SG, 27th 2011 DH and 28 2011 SG. Tommy Ford was 22nd in the 2011 SG and Erik Fisher 23rd in the 2009 SG. These are not the kind of result one builds a career on.
The Canadian guys have fared a bit better. Manny Osborne-Paradis won the 2009 super G and was second in downhill in 2006. Robbie Dixon (lost for this season to a fractured tib-fib) was fifth in the '09 SG and eighth in the 09 DH. Erik Guay has made the top 10 eight times at Lake Louise, topped by a second back in '03 Hudec got a win in the '07 DH and was fourth in SG in 2011. John Kucera won the '06 SG was second in the '08 SG
All told - and to no one's surprise - Austria has historically come in best prepared accumulating 20 wins at Lake Louise since the calendar switched the site starts to November, a little more than a third of the victories. Game on. -hm