Canada’s Erik Guay came agonizingly close to the podium in the classic Wengen downhill on Saturday when he finished fourth after a superb run on the most physically demanding track on the World Cup tour.
The reigning world downhill champion from Mont-Tremblant, Que., produced a smooth and strong performance on the legendary Lauberhorn course, which spans 4.415 kilometres and was lightning-fast Saturday – with France’s Johan Clarey setting a new speed record of 161.9 kilometres per hour.
Although Guay has had a number of fourth-place finishes in his career – most famously at the 2006 Olympics in Italy and the 2007 world championships in Sweden – he was happy with what is a career-best result in the Swiss downhill. Guay’s teammate Ben Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., was 12th Saturday and Jan Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., was 16th as the Canadian Cowboys put together a solid team performance.
“I’m pretty satisfied with this,” said Guay, who clocked a time of two minutes, 30.97 seconds, 1.15 seconds back of the eventual winner Christof Innerhofer, of Italy. “You always want the podium when you are fourth but my best previous result here was when I was eighth last year. I had a good, solid run and I skied really well.”
Guay, who has 18 career World Cup podiums after finishing third in Val Gardena, Italy, in December, will go into next week’s legendary Kitzbühel downhill in Austria full of confidence after another impressive showing.
“This part of the year is extremely important,” Guay said. “I’m satisfied with how I skied and I want to bring that into the Hahnenkamm.”
Austria’s Klaus Kroell, who started 21st, knocked Guay out of a podium position and finished second in 2:30.12. His teammate, Hannes Reichelt, was third in 2:30.58. Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, who did not finish his run Saturday, still leads the overall World Cup downhill standings with 285 points, ahead of Innerhofer (233) and Kroell (221). Guay is seventh with 173 points.
Thomsen, who has been steadily improving after a slow start to his 2012-13 season, produced a strong run on a course that hasn’t traditionally suited his skill-set.
“Wengen is definitely not a track for me. You saw that at the top when I was about a second out,” said Thomsen, who crossed the line in 2:31.51. “I’ve been working hard on my gliding but I need to keep working on it. I’m really happy with the way the rest of the run went. I stuck to my guns and pushed to the limit.”
Hudec skied extremely well in the top section but lost time in the middle of the leg-burning course.
“The top split was amazing,” said Hudec, who was second-fastest in the first interval and clocked a total time of 2:31.90. “I need to figure out how to ski the rest of the course 100 per cent. I’m not completely risking everything and that’s where I’m losing a little bit of time here and there. I (lost) a bunch of time in the middle section.”
Hudec has been hampered by a knee injury this season but worked hard in the gym during a break in the schedule and is starting to feel stronger.
“It’s always a leg-burner here but I definitely felt way better than I did in Bormio,” Hudec said.
Manuel Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver, B.C., was forced to restart his run when the racer in front of him went out and he was shown the yellow flag. In his second run he skied off course and did not finish. Calgary’s John Kucera was 47th with a time of 2:37.07.
“Manny had some very unfortunate luck when he had to take a re-run and by then the light had changed,” said Pete Bosinger, head coach of the men’s team. “It was a tough day for him.
“Overall it was a successful day. We have a group of healthy guys who are ready to keep charging and charge for the podium and be ready for the world championships.
“Erik was competitive and skied well in a number of sections. Ben was really good – he had some great sections today and it was really good for his confidence. Jan had some good sections but lost some time. He can be a top 10 contender but we just need him to be in the top 10. I think big picture it was a great day. Of course, you always want to get someone on the podium but next time . . .”