Just one week after winning the World Cup giant slalom race in Adelboden, Neuchatel's Didier Cuche will be chasing more home glory in Saturday's classic Lauberhorn downhill.This content was published on January 11, 2002 - 11:29
"Of course it was great to win in Adelboden, but giant slaloms are one thing and downhill quite another," Cuche reminded swissinfo, "so it's really difficult to carry the confidence from Adelboden into the race here in Wengen."
Quick in training
A more concrete boost to Cuche's confidence came in Thursday's second training session where the 27-year-old star posted the third quickest time over the Lauberhorn's gruelling 4.4 kilometre stretch, beaten only by Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Austria's Hannes Trinkl.
"I knew that I had to take a lot of risk to be fast in the downhill," Cuche told swissinfo afterwards, "and I'd had some problem with the set-up of my skis before coming here. But now I've had a good training run and I hope it will be the same in Saturday's race."
The former butcher from Neuchatel was satisfied enough with his performance on Thursday to literally coast through Friday's final training session. After speeding down the opening sections, Cuche stood up on his skis - apparently deciding to save his energy for Saturday's showdown.
While Cuche was happy to drift in with the 45th fastest time of the day, the Austrian team used Friday's training session to full effect, with the country's skiers taking the top seven places in the final warm-up.
Hannes Trinkl was the fastest man of the day with a time of 2'29"72. His compatriot and overall rankings leader Stephan Eberharter was the only other man to finish under 2'30".
The Austrian performances throughout the week have served as a further reminder that Cuche and the rest of the Swiss team will face a tough challenge on Saturday. And that's before one even considers the demands of the course itself.
"It's a really tough and long downhill course, and it's always hard to be fast here because of the way the run alternates between technically demanding parts and long, smooth sections where you have to go flat out. Doing that for two-and-a-half minutes is extremely hard on the legs, so to win here would be really nice."
Pushing Cuche and the rest of the Swiss men's team all the way will be head coach Dieter Bartsch. Hopes are high that at least one Swiss can make it onto the podium in Wengen for the first time in eight years - but for Bartsch, there's only one place on the podium that matters.
Aiming for victory
"We have to go for a win," Bartsch insists, "and the time is right for that. Just two years ago no-one in the team had a chance of finishing in a high position. Last year (when heavy fog led to the cancellation of the Lauberhorn race) we had realistic chances of a place in the top three.
"But it's no good to keep going for the same goal - we have to set new targets. In Cuche, Franco Cavegn and Bruno Kernen we have three guys who could win the race and there are quite a few others who could get some good placings. Now's the time to do it."
The realistic prospect of a Swiss winner in Saturday's race is bound to excite the country's most ardent ski fans, but Bartsch claims he never has to worry about over-exuberance in the Swiss camp.
"Our guys don't get too excited - they're Swiss," insists the Austrian-born coach with a grin. "All we have to tell them is to keep concentrating on skiing their best and provide them with all the help and energy they need."
Cavegn's big chance?
While Cuche's win in Adelboden has quickly turned him into the main Swiss hope in Wengen, 30-year-old speed specialist Franco Cavegn has been the country's most consistent performer in this season's downhill events. Having taken one fourth place and finished fifth on no less than three occasions, Cavegn is looking well capable of reaching the Lauberhorn podium at least.
"I'm very satisfied with the way I'm racing this season," Cavegn told swissinfo. "To be so close to the top so often shows me that I don't have to make too many changes. I'm in a good physical condition, and that's something you need for a race as long as the Lauberhorn. It's always special to compete at home, so I'll be doing my best and we'll see what happens on Saturday."
by Mark Ledsom, Wengen
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