The downhill in Kitzbuhel, Austria, is the crown jewel of the men’s alpine skiing world cup tour. The event is prestigious, dangerous and a win in Kitzbuhel is one of the most respected accolades in sport. The course is known as The Streif and traditionally runs just over two miles and features a maximum incline of 85%. Friday’s race start was lowered due to high winds and snow conditions to slightly above the infamous Mausefalle (MouseTrap) jump, but this slight change allowed the race to proceed safely and on time.
Max Franz from Austria kicked off the race at 11:30 am, local time. The 32-year-old had only two top-10 results in the Downhill in Kitzbuhel, but his second career World Cup podium came in the Super-G here in 2014. Franz was visibly unclean throughout his run and noticeably lost time on the Hausberg jump. Franz’s time of 1:59.54 was quickly beaten, and the first Austrian down the Streif would have to settle for 40th position. Austrian hero Vincent Kriechmayr, the reigning Super-G and Downhill World Champion, was also early in the queue to tackle the 31-gate course and was strong through the iconic Steilhang turns. However, the 30-year-old who’d sat on the Kitzbuhel Downhill podium in 2020 lost pace through the flat, gliding section. While his time put him in the lead for the moment, Kriechmayr was also quickly bested and settled for 13th.
Kriechmayr was not the only big name to struggle with the infamous Strief. Downhill leader Dominik Paris lost huge amounts of time through the technical section of track, and despite a strong final sector, Paris ended up just barely in the World Cup points in 27th.
Travis Ganong from California was the first of seven American Downhillers to take on the Strief. The US Ski Team has only been on the top step of the Kitzbuhel podium twice, with wins from Buddy Werner in 1959 being the first Non-European to win the race. The only US Ski Team member to win in Kitzbuhel in the modern ‘World Cup’ era is Daron Rahlves in 2003. Ganong pushed out of the start 6th and seemed determined to add his name to the shortlist. Ganong was incredibly smooth through the Carousel turn and danced between advantage and disadvantage at each interval. The 33-year-old carried immense speed through the final traverse and was very quick through the final straight. Ganong put himself ahead of then-leader Daniel Hemetsberger of Austria.
After watching his teammate’s times crumble, Matthias Mayer was one of Austria’s final chances at an iconic home-snow win. Mayer had won in Kitzbuhel in 2020 and had only been outside of the top 6 in two downhills so far this season. Mayer was flawless through the Steilhang turns and carried speed through the long flat traverse section. On top of this, the 31-year-old speed specialist was impeccable through the technical section leading into the Hausberg jump. Mayer flew to the finish line and smashed Ganong’s time by nearly half a second. Otmar Striedinger and Stefan Babinsky were the only Austrians left at the top and would be unable to challenge for podium positions.
A Kitzbuhel Downhill victory has been a dream that has long evaded the Norwegian powerhouse that Aleksander Aamodt Kilde has become in recent years. The Viking, who has more and more been a leader on the Norwegian Men’s team since the retirement of Aksel Lund Svindal, has had his fair share of ups and downs with the Streif course. Kilde’s relationship with the Streif began in 2014 when he failed to complete the entire course. In the following years, Kilde would flirt with glory, find himself in the top-10 in the downhill, and even landed on the Super-G podium in 2020. This year, riding downhill wins in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and on the iconic Wengen downhill in Switzerland, Kilde was on fine form to race to the history books. Flying through the first section of the course, the Norwegian was perfect through the difficult Steilhang and carried the most speed of anyone into the flatter section of track. While he lost a small amount of time to Mayer, Kilde was technically impeccable through the tighter corners before Hausberg. The 29-year-old flew to the finish and put down an impressive time that would prove hard to beat.
Contenders came and went and struggled to come close to Kilde’s time. Marco Odermatt of Switzerland and Johan Clarey of France made strong attempts to dethrone the Norwegian leader and came close. After 30 racers, Clarey and Matthias Mayer sat behind Kilde on the podium, with Odermatt in fourth. Canadian James Crawford was the first of the four Canadians and managed an exceptionally strong run to put him into 6th place at the end of the race.
The biggest story of Friday’s Hahnenkham race was bib 43, Blaise Giezendanner. The 30-year-old from Chamonix, France, has been racing on the World Cup circuit since 2013 and represented France at the 2018 Olympic Games in Korea. In his 6th Kitzbuhel Downhill appearance (including a DNS in 2016), Blaise attacked the course tremendously and found himself in a World Cup podium position for the first time in his career. The result stood against the nine racers left to go, and almost nine years after his world cup debut, Giezendanner stood on a World Cup podium for the first time.
It was a bitter-sweet day for the squad of American Downhillers, with strong results from some being matched by hints of disappointment from others. Travis Ganong led the team, finishing 7th, and Bryce Bennett (also from California) just missed out on his second top-10 on the Streif, finishing 11th. Other US Ski Team results included Steven Nyman in 21st, Jared Goldberg in 24th, Sam Morse in 37th, and Ryan Cochran-Siegle in 38th. Erik Arvidsson ended his first Kitzbuhel race in the net after catching an edge on the landing of the Hausberg jump and was part of a list of eight DNFs. Luckily there were no injuries, and Arvidsson skied away from his crash.
With his third win, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde claims the lead in the Downhill World Cup standings, with Dominik Paris falling to 5th. Kilde also narrows the gap in the overall rankings and now sits in 2nd, 335 points behind Marco Odermatt. The men’s tour races down the Streif one more time on Sunday, January 23rd, before heading to Schladming, Austria, for the iconic Night Slalom.
Full results and schedule can be found at fis-ski.com