Erik Guay 4th in Bormio downhill

Erik Guay came agonizingly close to his 16th career World Cup podium on the notoriously challenging Bormio downhill Thursday as Canada’s men’s team racked up its third fourth-place finish of the 2011-12 season.

The reigning world downhill champion from Mont-Tremblant, Que., laid down a smooth and controlled run on the knee-jarring Stelvio track to finish just 0.22 seconds off the podium. Guay’s result – his best of the season to date – follows fourth-place finishes for Jan Hudec in Lake Louise, Alta., and Robbie Dixon, in Beaver Creek, USA. Guay was also sitting fourth in the Val Gardena downhill in Italy when the race was cancelled due to high winds.

“It’s frustrating to be fourth but all in all, I had a pretty solid run,” said Guay, who started 13th and clocked a time of two minutes, 2.45 seconds. “It’s a really, really challenging downhill this year. I feel like I could have taken some chances in different areas.”

Paul Kristofic, head coach of Canada’s men’s team, said he’s happy with the progress the speed team has made after starting the year with several veterans returning from injury.

“It’s definitely frustrating when we have a number of fourth-place results but we are headed in the right direction,” Kristofic said. “It would be nice to be a couple of tenths faster and hit the podium today but Erik is making steady progress – he’s doing a good job. I think we’re getting there. Patience was an important factor from the beginning.”

Guay took time over the summer to deal with a troublesome back but he’s been fast in training and is starting to look like he’s back to his best.

“Over the last two races it’s been much more consistent,” said the 30-year-old. “All I can do now is have a good break at home and come back (strong) next year.”

Guay’s result came as two of his teammates raced on the same hill where they crashed and suffered serious injuries a year ago. Whistler, B.C.’s Dixon sustained a serious concussion in the 2010 race, while Louis-Pierre Hélie, of Berthierville, Que., suffered leg and head injuries during a crash in training last year. Dixon was fast in training this week but missed a gate Thursday, while Hélie was 47th after recording a time of 2:06.74.

“On a positive note I’m still standing and my head’s good,” said Dixon, who is hoping to secure his first career World Cup podium this season. “There were some really good things to come out of the past couple of days. For the first training run, I was the most nervous I’ve ever been in the start. Downhill has been a bit of a struggle this year. A little mistake got me today.”

The Swiss recorded a 1-2 finish from Didier Defago (2:01.81) and Patrick Kueng (2:02.10) Thursday, while Austria’s Klaus Kroell was third (2:02.23). Hudec, of Calgary, Alta. – who has made such a strong start to the 2011-12 season – was left looking for answers following his 23rd–place finish (2:04.28).

“I had a pretty good run and then I just lost an insane amount of time at the bottom with little to no mistakes,” said Hudec, who planned to spend the afternoon going through video with coaches to analyze what went wrong. “I had some really good training runs here with some good mistakes. Today I cleaned those up and tightened up the line but I was still way out. At least Erik put in a good performance for us today!”

Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., just missed out on World Cup points with a 32nd-place finish (2:04.80). Like Hudec, he couldn’t explain why he lost time at the bottom of the course.

“Maybe I skied a little too pretty,” said Thomsen, whose best World Cup result this year is a 27th-place finish in the super-G at Lake Louise. “I feel like I’ve been skiing well all season but I don’t have the results to show for it. Hopefully I can get in the top 30 in Wengen (Switzerland) and Kitzbuehel (Austria) and save my season.”