Didier Cuche wins men's World Cup super-G, giving Swiss fans farewell victory
CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland - He's the elder statesman of the Canadian men's alpine team, but Jan Hudec can still think fast on his skis.
The 30-year-old from Calgary was second in a World Cup super-giant slalom event Friday for his first career podium finish in the discipline. Hudec's previous three podium efforts all came in the downhill, including a win Feb. 4 at Chamonix.
"It was nice to get some success in another event and show I'm not just a downhiller and that I can think a little bit too and ski some of the more technical stuff," Hudec said in a phone interview. "It was a challenging day up there with snow conditions, obviously it was tough for some guys.
Hudec says he took advantage of a good draw on a day when warm weather wreaked havoc on the course.
"I think I backed off the gas too much on the last pitch of the course and that's what kind of cost me the win," said Hudec, who drew No. 6. "But moving forward I know what I need to do (Saturday) to be on top.''
Didier Cuche of Switzerland won the race with a time of one minute 33.11 seconds. Hudec was second in 1:33.27 while Austriaís Benjamin third in 1:33.32.
The victory was especially sweet for the 37-year-old Cuche, who was competing in his final World Cup in Switzerland before retiring.
"Everyone was telling me, 'You have to win.' I'm so happy that I was able to deliver at the first race," Cuche said. "It lifts the pressure."
Erik Guay of Mont Tremblant, Que., was 13th in 1:33.93 while Jeffrey Frisch, also of Mont Tremblant, also cracked the top 30, finishing finished 23rd in 1:34.94.
Hudec said the national team travels with a huge Canadian flag provided by Matt Price, the squad's fitness coach. And every time a skier makes the podium, he puts his signature on the flag.
It's a practice Hudec said Price began with the women's team and started last year with the men's squad and one Hudec and his teammates have thoroughly enjoyed with their recent success.
"It's something material that we can see our progress on and kind of hang it up on our training room wherever we go," Hudec said. "Obviously you don't dwell on the day too much because there's work to be done and you can always be faster.
"But at the same time it's nice to know that we were on a roll and do have some momentum and the guys all feed off that.''
Temperatures rose above 10 C on the south-facing Nationale course when Cuche started, wearing bib No. 20. Hudec said Cuche was able to master the conditions for a deserving victory.
ďIt was bumpy when I went down but it really got worse for the other guys," he said. "It's soft and obviously a lot of guys are going to be complaining because the snow conditions are too soft here but at the same time, it's one of those races where the best guy on the hill won.
"He deserved to win, he had an incredible run.''
Hudec continued his revival as a top-ranked skier after a series of knee injuries, which he says makes him really appreciate his recent accomplishments.
"I go from race to race and literally take it day to day and try to enjoy the successes without dwelling on it too much because I know the season is long and it's easy to get sidetracked," Hudec said. "But at the same time it's such a pleasure to ski and not always be thinking how my knees hurt or my back hurts.
"It takes a lot of stress off me and allows me to focus on my skiing and what I want to do on the hill and try to take a few risks and go for the line I want to ski. It has put the fun back into skiing, that's for sure.''
Cuche appeared equally surprised and elated on crossing the line to find he was fastest on the softening snow, then delighted the crowd further with his trademark trick of flicking his right ski end over end before catching and kissing it.
"My serviceman did a great job because the conditions were so different from the rest of the season." Cuche, said praising American technician Chris Krause for preparing his skis.
With 100 race points, Cuche rose to second in the season-long super-G standings, 38 behind Aksel Lund Svindal, the Olympic super-G champion from Norway who placed ninth.
Marcel Hirscher retained the overall lead in the standings after Swiss speed specialist Beat Feuz had a disappointing run.
Hirscher started a super-G for the first time in more than two years as he sought to defend his advantage, but finished outside the top 30 points-scoring places, 2.74 behind Cuche.
The 22-year-old Austrian is 41 points ahead of Feuz, who placed 20th. Defending champion Ivica Kostelic is second in the standings, 12 points behind Hirscher, but is sidelined after knee surgery.
Hirscher said he "had a good course inspection" and would skip the second super-G to focus on his specialist giant slalom on Sunday.
American Bode Miller sat out Friday's race to rest a knee injury. The U.S. team said Miller underwent a "very minor scope" of his left knee this week.
Cuche got his 21st career World Cup win and his sixth in super-G. In 1998, he won an Olympic silver medal in the discipline behind Hermann Maier at the Nagano Games.
He moved into a tie with Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway at 15th on the all-time World Cup winner's list. Miller's 33 wins is seventh.
Hudecís finish builds on the speed teamís recent hot streak. Thomsen was second at the last downhill in Sochi, Russia, a result that came a week after Hudec, Guay and Thomsen finished 1-3-5 in the second downhill in Chamonix. Guay got the streak going Jan. 28 with a second-place finish in the downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
"Weíre keeping it rolling," said Canadian speed coach Johno McBride. "What the secret? More than anything itís good energy and a sense of confidence. Guys are believing in what they are doing and believing in themselves."
ó With files from The Associated Press.