Poised to deny Beat Feuz’s bid for an unprecedented fifth consecutive World Cup downhill title is Alexander Aamodt Kilde, who leads the Swiss by 23 points entering the downhill finale on Wednesday in Courchevel.
The drama will unfold on the new 3.1-kilometer Eclipse track, which is being raced for the first time by both the men and women at World Cup Finals in the French Alps resort.
“Twenty-three points – it’s never enough until you’re in the finish area I guess – it’s going to be a fight, it’s going to be tough, if we’re more than two or three positions from each other, then it’s going to be difficult,” Kilde told Ski Racing Media after the second training run on Tuesday in Courchevel.
“But it’s 23-points in my favor, so I have to take good advantage of that and make it happen,” said the 29-year-old Norwegian, who is gunning for his first World Cup downhill title.
Kilde reveals that he has been talking shop and strategizing with girlfriend Mikaela Shiffrin, who clocked the fastest women’s training time on the new Eclipse course as she seeks her fourth overall title over the coming four days in France.
“We’ve been trying to analyze it together – I told her to be thinking about not being satisfied with the speed she has because it’s a course where you can really tighten up the line and also be smart in places, where she is the best skier in the world,” Kilde said. “It’s going to be a fun week for both of us.
“It’s fun to see her execute the way that I’d also like to do it, so I’ll try again tomorrow,” he said.
Kilde was fourth in the second training, 0.60 seconds behind American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, who was fastest on Tuesday, crossing the line in 1:52.87.
If Feuz can find a way to make up those 23 points on Kilde, he will become the first downhill racer in history to win five consecutive globes. Austrian legend Franz Klammer also won four straight between 1974-1978.
The Swiss racer was .85 seconds behind Kilde in Tuesday’s training, but certainly held back at times. The 35-year-old veteran said that anything is possible as the season-long downhill title chase comes down to the wire.
“I didn’t expect to be in the race for the title back in December, and I’m still in it here at the Finals,” Feuz said, translated from his native Swiss German. “Kilde is obviously very good and in good shape. If he skis as he can, he’ll be fast for sure, but we never know, anything can happen at the finals.”
The Beijing 2022 Olympic downhill gold medalist attained his only World Cup downhill victory this season in Kitzbuehel on Jan. 23. Feuz then finished fourth and third at the two races in Kvitfjell to keep his title hopes alive.
The Norwegian has tallied 570 points to his Swiss opponent’s 547. Kilde has been the mark of consistency this winter taking top honors at downhills in Beaver Creek, Wengen and Kitzbuehel. He has also stood atop six podiums.
However, Kilde was fifth in the Olympic downhill in Yanqing, 0.51 seconds slower than Feuz.
Kilder, the 2019-20 overall World Cup champion, was seen conversing with his main challenger Feuz in the finish area after Tuesday’s training run.
“We’re good friends and I have huge respect for him – tomorrow is going to be a cool day for both of us no matter how it turns out,” Kilde said. “For sure, it will be a battle, it’s fun and good for the sport.”
Kilde says despite his points advantage, he will not go out and try to protect the lead, but rather, still charge to win his fourth downhill this season.
“Winning races is the most fun – of course, it’s been an incredible season for me so I’m happy, but I’m still fighting for victories and still hungry.”
The Eclipse downhill track – which is essentially being tested ahead of the 2023 Courchevel-Meribel world championships – boasts an average gradient of 30%, even more than the 27% of Kitzbuehel’s vaunted Streif.
Racers will soar over three marquee jumps – the Zenith Jump, just after four gates out of the 2,235-meter in elevation start, the spectacular Jockey’s jump and finally the Braves jump, as racer enter the homestretch to the finish.
Kilde says that the new Courchevel course is technical in nature.
“It’s for sure a course that turns more than we’re used to, so have to find a good plan for tomorrow and try to stay in the line – that’s the most important thing,” Kilde said.
“I’m in good shape and it will be interesting to see if I can execute the gameplan tomorrow,” he added.
The men’s downhill is scheduled to start at 10am local time, followed by the women at 11:30. Temperatures are expected to be slightly mild, in the vicinity of six to seven degrees Celsius for the men and approaching nine degrees for the later women’s start.
Cochran-Siegle fastest in second training on Eclipse
The U.S. Ski Team’s Ryan Cochran-Siegle was the fastest among the 26 racers who started the second of two training runs in Courchevel.
“Today, it was definitely advantageous running early, so bib two was as good as I could have had, but there are still some things I could clean up with my run,” Cochran-Siegle told Ski Racing Media. “Trying to put it all together for tomorrow, but I have to give a lot of respect to the best skiers now as well.”
The Beijing Olympic super-G silver medalist offered his assessment of the new downhill track.
“It’s a unique course which is always nice to see. It’s definitely more on the technical side, as you get lower on the course there are a lot of big turns
“It’s about maintaining speed and when you get to the technical sections, being able to push the line and push the limit a little bit more.”
Cochran-Siegle is confident and optimistic about ending the winter on a high note in the French Alps, as he briefly assessed his season.
“My level of consistency, taking away Kitzbuehel and Gardena, I think I’ve been pretty consistent,” the Vermont racer said. “You want to be on the top spot and I haven’t really pushed that speed yet.
“There has been a lot of learning between the hills, coming back from injury and then adjusting to the new equipment.
“There’s more to be had and I need to work hard to get there.”
Follow Brian on Twitter – @Brian_Pinelli