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Cuche prepares to conquer Lauberhorn downhill

Cuche prepares again to tackle the Lauberhorn

(Keystone)

Switzerland's Didier Cuche will make another attempt on Saturday to win the one big race that has eluded him during his long career – the classic at Wengen.

The downhill in the Bernese Oberland is this year considered an important test for the World Ski Championships, which take place in the French resort of Val d'Isère at the beginning of February.

The last two Lauberhorn races have seen a duel between Cuche and Bode Miller from the United States, with Miller winning both by 65 hundredths of a second each time.

On Saturday (starting at 12.30 pm) Cuche, who hails from Neuchâtel, will try to gain revenge in a race that is one of the most prestigious on the ski circuit.

The other big course is the Streif in Kitzbühel, Austria, which Cuche won last year.

During training, Cuche showed his determination to be the 2009 winner, coming down the world's longest run of 4,445 metres ahead of the pack in Wednesday's opening training race.

"Good feeling"

"It's easier to return to a piste on which you have a good feeling and achieved good results in the past. It's reassuring to win the first training session; it gives me confidence for what is to come," he said.

The Lauberhorn, with its legendary sections like the Hundschopf, the Brüggli-S or the scary Ziel-S just before the finish line, which has been slightly modified this year to provide more safety, is an unique course for experienced skiers.

"It's no coincidence that Bode Miller and I finished in front over the last two years," said 34-year-old Cuche, a veteran of 15 World Cup seasons.

Even though Cuche is a respectable fifth in the World Cup standings half way through the season, 154 points behind the leader Benjamin Raich of Austria, he's had a few difficulties in his favourite discipline since October and his best result was fifth place in the downhill in Bormio.

The next three weeks will be decisive for the two-time winner of the crystal globe in the discipline. There are downhills at the Lauberhorn, then Kitzbühel, which he particularly likes, Garmisch in Germany and the World Championships.

Good chance

Another experienced Swiss skier, Didier Défago, is also in with a good chance on Saturday. Second behind Cuche in the first training race, the 32-year-old from canton Valais and the eternal outsider in the Swiss team has enjoyed a good season with a second place at the Super-G in Val Gardena and six finishes in the top ten.

Having disappointed supporters last weekend at Adelboden, the first of the two Swiss World Cup events, they will be trying to win back favour with the crowds who turn up beneath the Eiger, Mönch and Jungrau, the three imposing Bernese mountains that provide a majestic backdrop to the Lauberhorn races.

Friday's super combined event, one run a downhill and one a slalom, will give a chance for the Swiss to start the Wengen weekend events well. As world champion in the discipline in 2007, Daniel Albrecht is one of the outsiders, as are Défago, Silvan Zurbriggen and Marc Berthod.

But Albrecht from canton Valais, who won the giant slaloms in Sölden and Alta Badia, has had enormous difficulties in the slalom (a 20th place and three times eliminated) this winter. If he is to get anywhere in Wengen, he will have to avoid the slightest error on a slalom piste that is steep and unforgiving.

A revelation this winter, Carlo Janka can also lay claim to a top position in the downhill and perhaps also the combined event. Janker, who comes from canton Graubünden, is one of a new generation of versatile athletes who are capable of making a name in practically all the skiing disciplines.

He's already provided this by finishing second in the downhill at Lake Louise and winning the giant slalom at Val d'Isère.

Sunday slalom

The third event at Wengen, Sunday's slalom, will not provide any great satisfaction within the Swiss camp, unless there is a surprise. It is not a discipline that the Swiss have excelled in this season. At the last two events in Zagreb and Adelboden, no Swiss qualified for the second run.

Plagued by doubt, Zurbriggen, Berthod and Marc Gini would be happy with a podium finish to win back confidence before the World Championships.

The fact is that Switzerland has the means to win a medal in every discipline in Val d'Isère. The countdown starts in Wengen.

swissinfo, based on an article in French by Samuel Jaberg

The Lauberhorn events

The 79th International Lauberhorn Ski Races take place from January 16 – 18 in Wengen in the Bernese Oberland. The races include a super combined (downhill and slalom), the downhill and a slalom.

The Lauberhorn downhill and the Streif in Kitzbühel are the two classics on the ski calendar. The Lauberhorn is the equivalent of what Wimbledon is for tennis, Monte Carlo for Formula 1 and Paris-Roubaix for cycling.

The skiing weekend, with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the background, is important for promoting tourism in the Bernese Oberland region.

In 2008, the Lauberhorn downhill attracted the most TV viewers in Switzerland after the Euro 2008 football championships. More than one million people watched it.

The last Swiss to win the downhill was the Bernese skier Bruno Kernen in 2003.

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Didier Cuche

Born in 1974, Cuche lives in Les Bugnenets in canton Neuchâtel.

He has eight victories in his World Cup career...
Downhill: Kitzbühel in 1998, Garmisch in 2004, Kvitfjell in 2002 and Kitzbühel in 2008.
Super-G: Altenmarkt in 2002, Beaver Creek in 2002 and Val Gardena in 2007.
Giant slalom: Adelboden in 2002.

In 15 World Cup seasons, he has climbed on the podium 44 times. For the past two years he has received the crystal globe that is awarded to the season's best downhill skier.
Cuche also won a silver medal at the Olympic Games (Super-G at Nagano in 1998) as well as a bronze medal in the giant slalom at the World Championships at Åre in 2007.

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