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BORMIO, ITA (Dec. 29, 2012) — Young gun Ben Thomsen led a trio of Canucks to top-20 finishes in the classic Bormio downhill in Italy on Saturday, as the Canadian Cowboys attacked the notoriously bumpy and strength-sapping Stelvio course.
Thomsen and veterans Jan Hudec and Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished 15th, 17th and 18th, respectively, in an extremely tight race in which only two-hundredths of a second separated the top four racers.
Thomsen, of Invermere, B.C., has developed a reputation for being a fearless competitor on the world’s toughest downhill tracks and he produced a hard-charging and determined run Saturday to secure his best result of the 2012-13 World Cup season. Hudec, of Calgary, Alta., was having a strong run until he lost time lower down the course, while Osborne-Paradis, of Vancouver, B.C., laid it all on the line as he continues to impress on his comeback from injury. World downhill champion Erik Guay, of Mont-Tremblant was 24th after suffering from a fever in the lead-up to the race.
“It went really well but I made a couple of mistakes that were really costly,” said Thomsen, who clocked a time of one minute, 59.87 seconds. “Things are going in the right direction. I’m excited to get home and take a break and then see how I do in Kitzbühel (Austria) and Wengen (Switzerland).”
Thomsen, who burst to prominence last season with a second-place finish in the Olympic downhill test event in Sochi, Russia, has had a challenging start to his 2012-13 season but appeared to be back to his best on Saturday.
“The week was pretty slow through the training runs,” Thomsen said. “I didn’t think I had to change my skiing but I needed to get the race mindset on – the race face. You can’t really see it on TV but towards the middle in the major section where the race is won and lost I just went too straight into an uphill kind of part.”
Bormio is the second-longest downhill on the circuit and renowned as one of the toughest courses. The Stelvio is bumpy and hard and pushes skiers to their limits.
“Bormio is rough. It’s dark, it’s bumpy – it’s brutal on the legs,” explained Hudec, who has been dealing with a nagging knee injury but managed to ski through the pain Saturday. “You’ve got to will your way through to the finish. It’s a test of willpower at the end. I was just burned when I got to the finish.”
Saturday’s race was one of the tightest in alpine skiing history. One-hundredth of a second separated the top three and the fourth-place finisher was a further one-hundredth of a second behind. Italy’s Dominik Paris and Austria’s Hannes Reichelt tied for the win with a time of 1:58.62 and Norwegian superstar Aksel Lund Svindal was third in 1:58.63. Austria’s Klaus Kroell was fourth in 1:58.64.
Hudec, who was on the podium in Bormio in 2007 when he finished third, was having a strong run up top but lost time lower down the leg-burning course.
“I had the speed but ended up over-skiing some of the sections up top,” said Hudec, who crossed the line in 2:00.10. “I should have been ahead in the top half or at least competitive but I lost three-tenths (of a second) and then another second at the bottom. I needed to clean up the bottom a bit.
“I did okay but our skiing was better than our results showed today.”
Osborne-Paradis, who was seventh at the last World Cup downhill in Val Gardena, charged hard on Saturday and crossed the line in 2:00.13.
“It was okay. It wasn’t super-clean,” said Osborne-Paradis of his run. “In my training runs I was having a tough go. This is kind of like my first big challenge on a tough course (since my injury).
“It’s not a terrible result. It’s risk-reward out there. One day I will put this whole course together.”
Guay didn’t take part in Friday’s second training run after developing a fever but had the courage to race Saturday. He was off the pace but picked up a few World Cup points after what he described as “the toughest two minutes of my life.”
“I wasn’t in great shape today,” said Guay, who crossed the line in 2:00.68. “I felt pretty tired and burned out half-way down. It was a tough day.”
Guay started the day ranked third in the World Cup downhill standings but slipped to seventh after Saturday’s race, with 123 points. Svindal leads the discipline standings with 285 points, while Paris is second with 193.
Pete Bosinger, head coach of Canada’s men’s alpine team, said there were some positives to draw from Saturday’s results.
“It’s a solid day but these guys want to ski onto the podium,” Bosinger said. “Ben has been struggling and for him to ski to where he was today was a step in the right direction. Manny (Osborne-Paradis) has had some great races this year when you consider where he’s coming from.
“With Jan, for sure we expected more. He had some great stuff going on in the second training run but at least he’s still competitive and showing he has good speed. The biggest positive is that he is still able to race with the pain he’s feeling in his knee and push himself. Erik was sick and he was out of gas.”
The men’s speed team now has a chance to take a break ahead of the classic downhills in Wengen (Jan. 19) and Kitzbühel (Jan. 26). The ladies’ technical team is competing later today at the World Cup slalom in Semmering, Austria.
WATCH IT ON TV: Saturday’s Bormio downhill will be broadcast on CBC at 3 p.m. ET.
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