Feuz edges Svindal for home win in classic Swiss downhill
WENGEN, Switzerland — In the Alpine ski race that Switzerland loves most of all, Beat Feuz gave the home team yet another victory in the Lauberhorn downhill on Saturday.
Racing first, Feuz was watched by the Swiss president and 35,000 fans, setting a time on the longest World Cup course of 4.27 kilometers (2.65 miles) that only Aksel Lund Svindal could threaten.
Svindal wore the No. 3 bib and led at four of the five time splits, but the big Norwegian finished 0.18 seconds behind Feuz’s 2 minutes, 26.50 seconds.
“I’m very happy with the second place,” said Svindal, who watched Feuz’s run on television at the start house overlooked by the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains. “I kind of figured it would be a tough one to beat.”
Feuz punched the air with both fists in the leader’s box on seeing Svindal’s time — sensing a 62-man race that would take another two hours to complete was effectively over after eight minutes.
“A fantastic day, unbelievable. When Aksel came down, I knew mine was a good race,” said Feuz, who also won the world championships gold medal on home snow, at St. Moritz last February.
Matthias Mayer of Austria was third, 0.67 behind Feuz. It gave the storied race a podium of the world champion, flanked by the most consistent downhill racer of the past decade, and the 2014 Olympic champion.
Even fourth place was taken by Hannes Reichelt of Austria, who had his streak of five straight podium finishes at Wengen broken. When Reichelt won in 2015, he beat Feuz into second.
Feuz also won at Wengen in 2012, and the Swiss team has now won five of the past nine editions.
With his second downhill win this season, Feuz closed the gap on Svindal who leads the season-long standings. The 30-year-old Swiss previously won at Lake Louise, Canada, in November when Mayer and Svindal were also on the podium.
Svindal extended an impressive streak of top-three finishes in each of five World Cup downhills this season in his latest comeback from serious injuries and surgery.
“I can’t train as much,” said the 35-year-old Svindal who took silver in the 2010 Olympic downhill. “So I’m very happy that I’m able to pull it out for the races and make it happen.”
On a clear and cold day, the race was run under blue skies with sun lighting much of the course.
Feuz and Svindal were rewarded for choosing low numbers for the 12:30 p.m. local time (1130 GMT) start. World Cup rules let the top 10-ranked downhill racers pick an odd-numbered bib from Nos. 1 through 19.
Mayer started No. 11, and said the snow had become “sticky” and slower in the sun-bathed upper section.
The fastest speed was recorded by Reichelt, wearing No. 19, who clocked 147.5 kph (almost 92 mph) on a straight section two minutes into his run. Still, the Austrian veteran’s chance was gone after dropping a full second behind Feuz in the top half.
Svindal lost time at halfway going through the S-shaped turns where he grazed his head against safety nets and exited at just 70.7 kph (44 mph).
“It’s one of those old-school turns that’s almost impossible to do with the speed you carry,” he said, revealing his helmet was marked blue from “burned rubber.”
A festive day included a pre-race fly-past by military jet fighters escorting a Swiss airlines jumbo.
The host nation’s president, Alain Berset, watched in a public duty days before world leaders gather in Switzerland at Davos, where he is scheduled to meet U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It’s really magnificent,” Berset told The Associated Press of Feuz’s win. “It’s the biggest downhill race in the world for us obviously.”
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As the heat of the summer gives way to cooler mornings, summer trail race opportunities are slowly coming to an end.