Hudec top Canadian at Lake Louise

Jan Hudec was hoping for a spot on the podium, but he proudly draped a Maple Leaf flag over his shoulders after a 12th-place finish made him the top Canadian in the Lake Louise Winterstart World Cup downhill on Saturday.

Starting second, the 30-year-old from Calgary, Alta., laid down a strong run on the fresh snow, clocking a time of one minute, 48.33 seconds. He was just over a second back of the eventual winner, Swiss veteran Didier Cuche (1:47.28). Beat Feuz, also of Switzerland, was second (1:47.34) and Austria’s Hannes Reichelt was third (1:47.36).

Robbie Dixon, of Whistler, B.C., was the second-fastest Canadian, finishing 25th with a time of 1:48.90. Reigning world downhill champion Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., was 44th, and there were a couple of promising performances from young guns Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., and Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., who finished 34th and 46th, respectively.

“I’m proud to be the top Canadian,” said Hudec. “Obviously I wanted to be a little closer to the podium, but . . . I’m happy with my performance.

“Considering the conditions were tough, starting second was awesome, because the course was pretty smooth,” added Hudec. “It’s always a little tough when you have lots of fresh snow – you can’t really pin the straight line that you want because the track isn’t there yet. But all things considered, I had one of the best runs of my life.”

Paul Kristofic, head coach of the men’s team, said Hudec skied well and took advantage of his early starting position.

“I think he had a really solid run. I’m actually pretty happy with where he ended up,” said Kristofic of Hudec. “It was awfully close – a couple of tenths here or there would have made a difference.”

Dixon, who missed part of last season after suffering a concussion, was satisfied with his result.

“It was a good start,” he said. “I definitely wanted to get in the points – that was a big thing for me this weekend.”

Guay, who took extra time off this summer to rest a back problem, was fast in training but warned reporters all week that he didn’t anticipate getting a standout result.

“I wasn’t expecting big things coming into this weekend. I kind of knew my skiing wasn’t consistent,” said the 30-year-old. “The skiing isn’t there on demand at the moment and I’m just happy to get that first one under the belt and happy the back is doing well.”

Thomsen struggled in training this week, but delivered when it mattered most to finish just outside the top 30 with a time of 1:49.12.

“The run was good – it was exciting,” said the 24-year-old. “It was good to get back onto the race course and back into racing.”

When he arrived in the finish area, Thomsen was surprised to be told he was faster on his first split than Cuche.

“I couldn’t believe it – there’s no way,” he said. “When I went down I noticed things were a little faster than in the training runs, but I still can’t believe I was ahead at that point.”

Kristofic was happy to see both Thomsen and Hélie deliver good performances on race day.

“They really brought their best game. They were really close to being in the top 30,” he said. “I don’t know if I could ask for a lot more.”

Kelby Halbert, of Bradford, Ont., was 52nd with a time of 1:49.88, while Ryan Semple, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., and Conrad Pridy, of Whistler, B.C., were tied for 59th (1:50.51). Dustin Cook, of Lac-Sainte-Marie, Que., was 63rd (1:51.13).

“I think we have to look back at what the goals were for this race,” said Kristofic. “For the most part we’ve met those goals, with the exception of Erik. It’s painted a pretty clear picture of where we need to improve.”