With 28 racers down and Anna Fenninger holding a 0.32-second lead over Tina Maze, you might have thought this race was over.
Not so. Kicking out 29th, Andrea Fischbacher, who was recently left off the Austrian Olympic downhill roster, absolutely charged the brand-new Mont-Lachaux course in Crans Montana, Switzerland to take the win.
Just a single training run had been held on the tough, new track, which is characterized by several high-speed hairpin turns. The region spent four million francs ($4.5 million) to build the course, which was tested just before the Olympics with a three-race men’s Europa Cup series.
In a downhill race that was postponed overnight due to fog Saturday — plus a couple hours on Sunday — Fischbacher took advantage of good visibility, which was ever-changing at the top of the course. Taking nothing away from the 28-year-old Austrian, it was a well executed run, clean and compact from top to bottom — good enough to take a 0.15-second lead over her teammate, Fenninger, who was first to rush out into the finish area to celebrate with her friend.
Fischbacher’s previous great career achievement occurred four years ago at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver where she won the super G. Since then, however, the gold medalist has been struggling with back and knees problems.
“The last time I was on the podium was at the Vancouver Games and it feels just great to be back on top four years later,” Fischbacher said. “Today’s downhill was very difficult. The course was tricky with many gates. It was hard to see them coming. Today, I manage to let my skis go and to ski freely without thinking of my back and knees problems. Last time I won a World Cup race, it was in a very difficult and bumpy race in Bansko. I might be good in such tough and challenging races. I am also quite good at remembering the new courses easily. That might also be an advantage.”
Another Austrian, Elisabeth Goergl, skiing 12th under clear conditions, had put down a fast, early pace with a powerful final push through the finish. Fenninger, like several others, was able to grab a lead on the top part of the course but was able to also expand her margin on Goergl with delicate skiing through to the finish. She ultimately placed second in what would have been her first downhill win of her career had the result held.
“We only had one training day and that made it tough for us today,” said Fenninger. “One can see who are the best racers on such difficult slopes. I like this new course. I already knew the other slope but I definitely like the new one more.”
And fresh off a pair of Olympic gold medals — one of which was in downhill — Tina Maze, racing just after Fenninger, was able to knock Goergl off the podium. The Slovenian fought back from as much as a 0.45 deficit to claim third place.
Perhaps the surprise run of the day came from Hungary’s Edit Miklos, who skied to fifth, just 0.82 seconds off the winning pace. The result marks the best-ever World Cup result for a Hungarian — she had previously held the record with a 12th-place finish in Val d’Isere. Also, Norway’s Lotte Smiseth Sejersted had a near-best finish of sixth place.
These results make no easier the efforts of World Cup downhill leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch, who was knocked back to ninth in the race and saw her points advantage over Fenninger in the discipline slip from 131 to 80. Tina Weirather is currently third in the downhill standings but will sit out the rest of the season due to injury. The discipline title will be settled at the World Cup Final in Lenzerheide on March 12.
As for the overall, it is also a tightening race with Hoefl-Riesch leading Fenninger, 1108-951. Again, Weirather sits in third with 943 points. Last season’s champ Tina Maze is fourth with 814 points.
Lara Gut, fifth in the overall standings and fastest in the race’s sole training run earlier in the week, was quite fast after the first split but got bounced around, nearly hitting her head on her knee. She was knocked out of the course for a DNF and was seen limping in the finish area. Gut later confirmed via social media that she would undergo an MRI on her knee for further evaluation. Fellow Swiss Dominique Gisin, fresh off a shared Olympic gold medal in the discipline, was similarly fast up top, 0.21 seconds up at first split, but couldn’t hang on to the pace of then-leader Goergl through the bottom — she finished tenth. Fabienne Suter was the top finisher for the host nation in seventh.
It wasn’t much of a day for the Americans. Julia Mancuso led the team in 18th, 2.34 seconds off the winning time. She was quick up top, but a couple bobbles prior to the forested gliding section zapped most of her speed. Stacey Cook went wayward toward the bottom, losing her direction on the new course to finish 21st. Laurenne Ross finished 30th; Jackie Wiles was 31st, Julia Ford 38th, and Leanne Smith finished near the end of the pack in 40th.
By Hank McKee
Women’s World Cup downhill, Crans Montana, Switzerland, March 2, 2014
Equipment – Skier, skis/boots/bindings
2 Fenninger, Head/Head/Head
3 Maze, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
4 Goergl, Head/Head/Head
6 Sejersted, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
7 Suter, Stoeckli/Lange/Atomic
8 Schmidhofer, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
10 Gisin, Dynastar/Lange/
Women’s World Cup downhill, Crans Montana, Switzerland, March 2, 2014. … It is the 25th race of the women’s 32 race schedule with seven races remaining. … The super combined from Crans Montana was canceled as fog made it impossible to complete the downhill on Saturday and it was rescheduled for Sunday. The next stop, Are, is already picking up a race from Kranjska Gora.
It is the first World Cup race on a newly constructed downhill course. … It is the 35th World Cup hosted by Crans Montana where the 1987 World Championship was conducted. The start is delayed two and a half hours by fog.
It is the third career World Cup win for Andrea Fischbacher, her second in downhill, the previous Feb. 28, 2009 at Bansko. … It is her third top-10 finish of the season.
It is the 24th World Cup podium for Anna Fenninger. … her ninth of the season including the Olympic SG gold medal. … It matches her career-best DH finish.
It is the 67th career World Cup podium for Tina Maze… her ninth in downhill. … It is her seventh podium result of the season including Olympic GS and downhill gold medals.
It is the second best DH result at Crans Montana for Julia Mancuso after a fourth March 8, 2008. … It is the top Crans Montana result for Stacey Cook. … It is the 44th career World Cup scoring result for Laurenne Ross… her fifth of the season. … Jackie Wiles just misses scoring in a tie for 31st place.
With seven races remaining, Maria Hefl-Riesch (ninth in race) leads the World Cup overall standings 1108-951 over Anna Fenninger. … Tina Weirather (injured) is third with 943pts. … Mikaela Shffrin (did not race) is sixth overall with 650pts and Marie-Michele Gagnon (did not race) ninth with 453pts. …
Hoefl-Riesch also leads the downhill standings (with one race remaining) 504-424 over Fenninger with Weirather in third with 400pts. … Cook leads Americans on the downhill chart in 13th with 143pts. … Canadian Larisa Yurkiw (DNF in race) is 23rd with 99pts.
Austria leads the womens Nations Cup standings 4598-2528 over Switzerland. … Sweden is third with 2144pts. … The U.S. is sixth with 1490pts and Canada 11th with 742pts.
RESULTS — Downhill, Crans Montana, Switzerland
|Rank||Bib||FIS Code||Name||Year||Nation||Total Time||Diff.||FIS Points|
|6||10||425880||SEJERSTED Lotte Smiseth||1991||NOR||1:34.83||+0.83||12.10|
|24||13||495318||RUIZ CASTILLO Carolina||1981||SPA||1:36.84||+2.84||41.39|
|39||55||35089||SIMARI BIRKNER Macarena||1984||ARG||1:39.58||+5.58||81.33|
|42||47||298084||AGERER Lisa Magdalena||1991||ITA||1:41.32||+7.32||106.69|
|Did not finish 1st run|