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Défago wins Lauberhorn downhill

Didier Défago surrounded by fans after winning the men's downhill on the Lauberhorn piste in Wengen

(Keystone)

Swiss skier Didier Défago has won the men's World Cup downhill on the classic Lauberhorn piste above the Swiss resort of Wengen.

It was the 31-year-old's second career World Cup victory – after a super giant slalom win in 2002 – and first in downhill. He had never before finished in the top three of a downhill.

Défago is the first Swiss to win the Lauberhorn downhill since Bruno Kernen in 2003. He also spoilt US rival Bode Miller's attempt for a third consecutive victory, which was achieved by Austrian skier Franz Klammer in 1975, 1976 and 1977.

Défago timed 2 minutes, 31.98 seconds on the ski circuit's longest and most demanding course. Miller, the two-time defending champion, was 0.20 seconds behind in second.

Marco Sullivan, also of the United States, was 0.38 back in third.

"Victory has a special taste," Défago said. "I waited a long time for a podium in downhill. For it to come as a win, and in Switzerland on top of that, it's incredible."

Défago said he benefited from the Swiss media focusing more on pre-race favourites Didier Cuche and Carlo Janka, who won the super-combined event on Friday.

"It gave me more time to myself," Défago said. "I could go in my room and relax and think about the race."

Bumpy and hard

Ambrosi Hoffmann was the second-best Swiss skier, just missing out on a podium position, finishing in fourth.

The four other Swiss had a less memorable day. Didier Cuche, who was once again aiming to win the one big race that has eluded him during his long career and who finished in pole position in training, had to make do with tenth.

Carlo Janka was 12th, Daniel Albrecht 13th and Silvan Zurbriggen 23rd.

The Lauberhorn was bumpy and hard in most places, although bright sunshine had softened the snow high up in the opening sections.

"Over the days it got a little bit uneven," said Marco Büchel, who finished sixth. "The bumpier it is the more tired you get. But Wengen is always a challenge no matter how the snow is."

Challenge

Bode Miller, who competes independently of the US ski team, has now been runner-up three times this season. The defending overall World Cup champion is searching for a first victory after 19 races.

The 31-year-old had a look of bitter disappointment on his face after finishing the race, and said he was still troubled by an injury to his left ankle sustained when he clipped a gate in the downhill at Beaver Creek, Colorado, last month.

"I have both physical and mental pain when I ski right now," he said. "Over the course of a long time that gets a little bit annoying. It's only in the ski boot that it hurts. It's a little bit frustrating on these downhills where there's a lot of really hard left turns. I just don't have the power to do what I want to do."

He described his season's results as "pretty poor, especially considering the way I've been skiing".

After five of nine races Austria's Michael Walchhofer kept the lead in the downhill standings despite finishing 26th, while Miller climbed from sixth to second. Défago, in fourth, is the only Swiss in the downhill top ten.

Benjamin Raich of Austria, who did not race on Saturday, retains his lead in the overall World Cup standings ahead of France's Jean-Baptiste Grange. After 19 of 37 races Janka is fourth, Défago sixth, Cuche seventh and Albrecht ninth.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Selected results from the Lauberhorn downhill 2009:

1. Didier Défago, Switzerland, 2 minutes, 31.98 seconds.
2. Bode Miller, United States, 2:32.18.
3. Marco Sullivan, United States, 2:32.37.
4. Ambrosi Hoffmann, Switzerland, 2:32.56.
5. Manuel Osborne-Paradis, Canada, 2:32.63.
10. Didier Cuche, Switzerland, 2:33.34.
12. Carlo Janka, Switzerland, 2:33.75.
13. Daniel Albrecht, Switzerland, 2:33.80.
23. Silvan Zurbriggen, Switzerland, 2:35.11.

end of infobox

The Lauberhorn events

The 79th International Lauberhorn Ski Races take place from January 16 – 18 at Wengen in the Bernese Oberland.

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.

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