Although skies were blue on Saturday for the men’s downhill in Val Gardena, Italy, the sun just wouldn’t come out and play for the 64 racers who took to the course. Though much of the track was cast in shadow, Austrian Max Franz stunned the crowd en route to his first career World Cup win. Franz took the victory with a total time of 1:56.60 seconds, barely edging out Norwegian superstar Aksel Lund Svindal by 0.04 seconds. American Steven Nyman made his much anticipated return to the World Cup podium in third, 0.41 seconds off the pace.
Running early on with bib five, Svindal took to the course and looked to be well on his way to his first World Cup win since tearing his ACL at last season’s Kitzbuehel downhill. The Attacking Viking laid down some impressive split times and had a near flawless run save for a slight line miscalculation in the Ciaslat section of the course that would prove to be the deciding factor when all was said and done.
Svindal held a commanding lead for racer after racer until Nyman kicked out of the start with bib 15. The tall American Downhiller — a three-time winner in Val Gardena — challenged Svindal at each interval and even held a slim lead at the last time check before crossing the line in second place. Things calmed down some for several racers until the 27-year-old Franz took on the Saslong.
Just when fans thought that the podium had been decided, the Austrian was suddenly testing Svindal’s seemingly untouchable pace and the crowd erupted in cheers as Franz crossed the line with a razor-slim 0.04 second lead. Taking his hat off in appreciation, Svindal knew that the Austrian had done something special.
After watching many racers lose time to Svindal on the bottom, Franz knew he had to nail the middle Ciaslat section if he was going to carry speed into the finish and challenge for the win.
“First victory is really awesome in Groeden,” he said. “I felt really well in the first and second training, and today the feeling was pretty good. The chance to win was there, and I took it. Really happy.”
After yesterday’s disappointing DNF, Svindal was eager to show he still has the speed to challenge for the win in downhill. After admitting he took too much risk in the super-G, he decided to focus on good technical skiing for the downhill.
“It’s a little bit different this year to be at the start because I haven’t skied so much, so it’s not an automatic,” Svindal said. “Normally, you know what you’re supposed to do, the technique is easy to ski completely correct, but that’s a little different this year. I’m an old guy now. I’m experienced, so I can come in with just a little bit of training and get away with coming into the season and still be fast.”
Nyman had a brief heart-attack moment over the infamous Camels Hump as he found himself in the backseat and windmilling to stay in balance as he soared through the air. Thankfully, after a quick recovery the American managed to rebound and find himself on yet another World Cup downhill podium.
“I went off the Kamelbuckel a little back, which made me roll down the windows and gave me a good scare,” he said in the finish.”I skied really well. I was in the lead on the last split, but I burned my skis really bad so I could feel them on this last drag down bottom and they were just grabbing and I was like, ‘I’m not moving like I should be moving right now,’ which is a bummer. I’m really happy with the performance. To know I can ski at the top is really, really good and I want to cary that into Caterina.”
The rest of the American Downhillers managed to bounce back after a tough super-G outing on Friday and managed to land two other racers in the top-10 with Travis Ganong in seventh and Bryce Bennett repeating his impressive attack-from-the-back performance from last season’s race, finishing in eighth place from bib 54. Jared Goldberg finished in 29th, Andrew Weibrecht in 34th, and Thomas Biesemeyer in 43rd.
“I had some good training runs and I haven’t ever experienced that in my career,” Bennett said. “I was pretty nervous today. My mind was in a lot of places, but I was able to calm it down about four people before I went. I just went and skied and had a good time. I really enjoy this track. It’s incredibly prepared, and the terrain suits my style, so I just like to have fun with it.”
The men now head to Alta Badia, Italy for a giant slalom and parallel GS on the Gran Risa slope on Sunday and Monday.
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- Max Franz (AUT) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Aksel Lund Svindal (NOR) – Head/Head/Head
- Steven Nyman (USA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Adrien Theaux (FRA) – Head/Head/Head
- Erik Guay (CAN) – Head/Head/Head
- Aleksander Aamodt Kilde (NOR) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Travis Ganong (USA) – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Bryce Bennett (USA) – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
- Nils Mani (SUI) – Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
- Guillermo Fayed (FRA) – Head/Head/Head
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|2||5||421328||SVINDAL Aksel Lund||1982||NOR||1:56.64||+0.04||0.43|
|6||10||422139||KILDE Aleksander Aamodt||1992||NOR||1:57.21||+0.61||6.54|
|38||2||194542||GIRAUD MOINE Valentin||1992||FRA||1:58.51||+1.91||20.48|
|47||57||110324||VON APPEN Henrik||1994||CHI||1:58.95||+2.35||25.19|
|Did not start 1st run|
|Did not finish 1st run|
|64||460071||ACHIRILOAIE Ioan Valeriu||1990||ROU|
|48||422310||SEJERSTED Adrian Smiseth||1994||NOR|