Canadian Cowboys chase Hahnenkamm podium

The Canadian Cowboys will go in search of their first podium on the legendary Hahnenkamm in Austria this weekend in special-edition silver and red Spyder suits designed by team sponsor Audi Canada.

Representatives from the Ajax, Ont.-based company created a unique look for reigning world downhill champion Erik Guay and his teammates to wear at the most prestigious stop on the World Cup tour, often referred to as the ‘Super Bowl of ski racing.’ The eye-catching design features a Maple Leaf on the arms and replaces the traditional alpine yellow colour scheme with red, silver and black – part of Audi’s colour scheme and the featured colours for the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.

Canadian racer Ben Thomsen modeling the new speed suits

The go-fast new look could prove to be useful in Kitzbühel, the only downhill on the World Cup tour where a current member of the Canadian Cowboys hasn’t been on the podium.

“I’m excited to wear these suits,” said Jan Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., who finished 10th in last year’s race, in which he was famously a ‘Kitzbühel rookie’ at the age of 30. “It’s something different and gives more profile to the team. It keeps things fresh and is fun for the athletes and fans.

“I won’t be a rookie anymore at this year’s race and unlike last year, we’re probably going to be running from the top. For sure it will be tough. The focus will need to be (very high) but I’m looking forward to it.”

Audi Canada asked its graphic design agency, Tisch 13, to come up with a unique design for the suits, which will also be worn by the men’s slalom team during Sunday’s race in Kitzbühel, and by the ladies’ slalom team in Ofterschwang, Germany, on Jan. 27. The design incorporates three main elements:
– The Canadian Maple Leaf on the arms, to ensure it can be seen even when racers are wearing bibs
– Audi colours, with silver and red forming the basis of the suit’s colour scheme
– An eye-catching Spyder spiderweb design on the leg

“Audi is thrilled to have the Canadian Alpine Ski Team debut this suit at the race at Kitzbühel,” said Jennifer Dobbs, Audi Canada’s brand marketing manager. “The weekend in Kitzbühel is one of the most important sport events for Audi – and serves as a formidable stage to showcase these spectacular suits.”

Young gun Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., who is known for being a fearless racer who thrives on the most challenging World Cup courses, feels right at home on Kitzbühel’s famous Streif. It is considered the world’s most demanding alpine race track and features extremely difficult and steep terrain right out of the start gate.

“I think it’s a wicked idea,” said Thomsen of wearing a special-edition suit in Kitzbühel.

“The season has started really slow for me but I’m really happy with how I did in Wengen (Switzerland) and I’m going to bring this confidence into Kitzbühel,” added Thomsen, who was 12th in the Wengen downhill last weekend. “It’s a big fitness track and I’m really confident in myself – I have the ability to dig deep.”

Kitzbühel was a happy hunting ground for the Crazy Canucks, with Ken Read becoming the first non-European to win there in 1980. That started an incredible Canadian win streak, with Steve Podborski winning there the next two years and Todd Brooker taking his turn in 1983.

Guay, who has 18 career World Cup podiums, isn’t sure why a top-three result has eluded him at Kitzbühel. He has had two fifth-place finishes there – one in the super-G and one in downhill. This could be his year, though, as he’s skiing superbly in both training and races and looks like he’s peaking at just the right time, with the world championships set to follow this weekend’s races in Kitzbühel. A World Cup super-G is scheduled for Friday, with the downhill following on Saturday and a slalom race on the calendar for Sunday.

“I want to bring momentum into the Hahnenkam,” said Guay, who was fourth in the Wengen downhill last weekend and finished fifth, 13th and 10th the downhill training runs in Kitzbühel this week. “This part of the year is extremely important – you get your confidence built up. The best I can hope for is to ski well and then anything can happen. You have to focus on the process and not the outcome.”

Custom-made suits were also made this season for one of Alpine Canada’s other main sponsors – the Osisko Mining Corporation. That design features a colour scheme dominated by gold and black and is based on a concept originally put together in 2011 by Genevieve Dube, who won a competition to design the suits on behalf of Osisko. The special-edition Osisko suits were worn by Canadian downhill and super-G racers in Val Gardena, Italy, last month and at some slalom and giant slalom races.

Spyder, which designs and manufactures the Canadian Alpine Ski Team’s high-tech race suits, worked with Alpine Canada, Audi Canada and the Osisko Mining Corporation to produce the special-edition suits.

“The partnership between Spyder and Alpine Canada Alpin spans over 20 years, but the roots of the relationship are even deeper — Spyder’s founder, David Jacobs, was a Canadian downhill champion himself as well as the first full-time head coach for the team back in the ’60s,” said Russ Rowan, vice-president of sales and global marketing for Spyder Active Sports. “The special speed suits we designed this season with Alpine Canada in collaboration with other team sponsors Audi and Osisko are a testament to our mutual devotion to speed, performance, and elevated technology in the pursuit of more ski racing podiums, and we’re excited to have been involved with the project.”