There was an air of uncertainty on Friday morning as the men of the World Cup prepared for the annual Birds of Prey downhill in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Weather forced the cancellation of Thursday’s training run and organizers made the decision to swap schedules and run the downhill on Friday as opposed to the original plan of super-G after analyzing the forecast for the coming days. In addition, teams were informed of three possible schedules for Friday’s downhill: plan A was to run the race from the top at the scheduled start time of 10:45am MTN, plan B was to lower the start down to “The Brink” section of the course if there was weather, and plan C was to start the race from another, even lower start in the event the weather was particularly bad.
Ultimately, as snow slowly began to fall, plan B won out with race officials hoping to provide as fair of a race as possible for all competitors. The top gliding section of the Birds of Prey downhill, known as “The Flyway,” can become extremely variable if there is changing weather and falling snow. In the interest of fairness, the start was lowered.
After tense, extremely tight racing throughout the entire field, Switzerland’s reigning downhill World Champion, Beat Feuz, bested the field on the shortened course. His Swiss teammate, Mauro Caviezel, captured his second podium in a row in second after finishing third last week in the Lake Louise super-G, just 0.07 second back. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who has won the last three Birds of Prey World Cup downhills, finished in third, a scant 0.08 seconds shy of the four-peat.
For Feuz, who narrowly missed the downhill win in Beaver Creek last season, the decision to run from a lower start likely played a key role in his victory. Traditionally, Feuz’s weakness on Birds of Prey has been the top gliding section.
“The change of the start to the reserve start was actually a decision that was good for me,” Feuz said after the race. “I think it might even be the reason I’m on top today because my strength is not in the flats. I was very determined to win today. I told my coaches that if the start is moved down I have to grab that chance to get the win and now I’m celebrating my first win here.”
Caviezel has been on something of a hot streak over the last two weeks with the Swiss racer capturing his second career World Cup podium last week in Lake Louise and following it up just days later with his third – and first in downhill – in Beaver Creek.
“This is a special place and to be on the podium, my first podium in downhill, I have to like this place for sure,” he explained. “It was not so easy today so I tried to take some risk to ski good and simple. It’s not easy here to get on the podium and it was a bit of a surprise for me but right now I am just happy. It was a little bit bumpy in the first part so it’s not a good feeling on the skis but it was for every athlete the same. Without the work from the whole [course crew], it wouldn’t be possible. The rest is racing, sometimes you have good conditions, sometimes not.”
Although Svindal’s streak of wins in Beaver Creak was snapped by a mere eight-hundredths, the big Norwegian was satisfied with his performance, especially with being hampered by a broken hand suffered while training in Copper Mountain, Colorado, earlier this month.
“I’m happy,” he said. “It’s a tight race and a day full of snow and some changes in visibility and it’s kind of the opposite of last year. Last year was the perfect day for ski racing; no wind, minus five degrees [celsius], and the sun is out. Today was a little tougher. Like Beat said, the reason why I was able to beat him last year was actually the first section of the course, that’s where I took the time that I needed to beat him, and today we were not skiing that part. I still could have won it, obviously, but I’m happy with third.”
“I can’t grip anything so I have to tape the pole to my hand,” he added about his injury. “I can’t push but I can skate really well. I just have to remember going out of the start that there’s no pushing because if you’re determined to skate hard, it’s actually not much slower than pushing. With downhill racers, the power is in our legs so if you push hard with your legs then it’s almost as fast as doing it with your poles as well. I will have to ski like this until at least mid-January so if it didn’t work, it would suck.”
The American Downhillers were led by two strong performances by veteran and team leader, Steven Nyman, and up-and-coming talent, Bryce Bennett, who finished in a tie for ninth place, just 0.56 seconds back of Feuz.
“I think it’s awesome that we tied; it’s so cool!” Nyman shared in the finish. “He’s my little protege but he’s not so little. I’m pretty psyched with what I did. I was breaking out some rocket ships so those [skis] helped with the position but I skied well, thought I was disciplined, I nailed the points I wanted to nail, and did what I needed to do and that was it. It’s an outdoor sport and sometimes it’s not the most fair, but I’m pretty happy with what happened. It’s always great to have the crowd fired up when you come through the finish line.”
For Bennett, his newfound position among the top downhillers on Tour is an intimidating one for the six-foot-seven Squaw Valley native – he started with bib six, sandwiched between Svindal and Feuz – but is eager to become more comfortable rubbing shoulders with some of his childhood idols.
“I thought about it more in Lake Louise when I was around those guys,” Bennett explained. “I grew up watching these guys on TV and here I am in the mix with them which is definitely weird. It’s a little uncomfortable, but I think with a little time I will become comfortable. I’m close, it’s just a couple of turns that I have to clean up and I’m right there. I think, moving forward, looking towards Val Gardena, which is a hill I can do very well at, I think my equipment is in a place where I won’t be too far out in the first two splits so I can be competitive.”
For the rest of the American Downhillers, Travis Ganong finished in 28th place, 1.11 seconds back, Ryan Cochran-Siegle finished in 32nd after a costly mistake moments from the finish likely cost him another attack-from-the-back result, Thomas Biesemeyer finished 42nd, Jared Goldberg 45th, and Wiley Maple 51st.
Top-seeded German skier and 2018 Hahnenkamm downhill champion, Thomas Dressen, crashed hard early in the race and was transported to the hospital but was reported to be walking under his own power. More details on his condition will be added as updates become available.
1. Beat Feuz (SUI): Head/Head/Head
2. Mauro Caviezel (SUI): Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
3. Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR): Head/Head/Head
4. Adrien Theaux (FRA): Head/Head/Head
5. Johan Clarey (FRA): Head/Head/Head
5. Vincent Kriechmayr (AUT): Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
7. Hannes Reichelt (AUT): Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
8. Christian Walder (AUT): Head/Head/Head
9. Steven Nyman (USA): Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
9. Bryce Bennett (USA): Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
For complete FIS results, please click here.