Norway's Aleksander Aamodt Kilde laying down a near-perfect run

Kitzbühel (Austria) (AFP) - Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde notched up the second World Cup downhill victory of his career in Kitzbuehel on Saturday in a massive morale booster going into next month’s world championships.

In tricky, snowy conditions, the Norwegian clocked 1min 56.90sec to net 100,000 euros ($108,000) in prize money, part of a 1m-euro pot on offer for three days of racing in the upmarket Tyrolean resort.

The result took Kilde to 225 points behind Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt in the overall World Cup standings. The Swiss racer opted out Saturday after taking a bang to his knee in Friday’s downhill, perhaps with an eye fixed on the February 6-19 world champs in Courchevel and Meribel.

“What a week!” said Kilde, adding that the weather conditions had been tough for the entire field.

“To take advantage of skiing well: that’s what you have to do when it’s weather like this, and being confident and trust in your skiing, that’s what you have to do in such weather.

“In Kitzbuehel, you need to send it or else it’s going to be really dangerous.

“This is for sure one of my biggest victories, if not the one. I’m really proud of myself after a tough couple of days.”

France’s Johan Clarey, the doyen of ski racing at the venerable age of 42, claimed second place for a third time in Kitzbuehel, in 1:57.57, to improve his own record as the oldest skier to make a World Cup podium.

“I’m second again, but behind a guy who’s almost unbeatable at the moment,” said Clarey.

“I haven’t really thought of my age, but it’s a record that will be tough to beat.”

American Travis Ganong, who clocked an eye-watering top speed of 142.46km/h (89mph), finished third, 0.95sec adrift of Kilde.

In a race often dubbed alpine skiing’s equivalent to the Monaco Grand Prix, a raucous 50,000-strong crowd was welcomed back around the finish area after two years when fan numbers were slashed because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Among the onlookers was Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian bodybuilder/actor-cum-California governor, resplendent in a traditional broad-rimmed felt hat and matching anthracite and fir green coat typical of his native Styria region.

Clapping in unison amid flares, flags and fiery alcohol, the crowd egged on the skiers who flung themselves down the 3.3km-long Streif course on the Hahnenkamm mountain regarded as the toughest on the circuit.

- Footloose Kilde -

It is a thigh-trembling descent, which made its debut in 1931 and now sees the skiers reach motorway-coasting speeds while negotiating sections that have an 85-percent gradient and battling crippling centrifugal forces.

The icy course, which has a stomach-churning vertiginous start that propels racers to 100km/h in five seconds, features falls, snakes and rolls through a wide variety of terrain.

That brings into play the so-called “risk management”: how much a racer is able to push himself in the knowledge that one slight error might mean hurtling into some of the 15km of nets and fencing down the course.

Kilde had said before the race that each racer has “a bottle filled with risk, when do you want to empty that bottle?”

Kicking out of the startgate to Kenny Loggins’ upbeat 1980s pop rock classic ‘Footloose’, Kilde didn’t necessarily take all risks, but he did lay down a near-perfect run, importantly holding his line as he came off the final traverse into the last jump, where he’d almost come a cropper in Friday’s downhill.

Switzerland’s Olympic champion Beat Feuz, a three-time winner on the Streif, finished 16th, more than 2sec off the pace, while another three-time Kitzbuehel champion, Italy’s Dominik Paris, was 14th at 1.92sec.

Austrian hopes of a downhill double disappeared after Friday’s winner, reigning world champion Vincent Kriechmayr, came in fifth (+1.30), just behind Italian Mattia Casse.

Kitzbuehel has been witness to many crashes over the years and Saturday’s racing was no exception as 2018 champion Thomas Dressen of Germany, Americans Jared Goldberg and Sam Morse, and Frenchman Cyprien Sarrazin were among those who slid out, to momentarily silence the crowd.