Alphand Scales Twin Peaks

By Williams, Richard | The Independent (London, England), January 15, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Alphand Scales Twin Peaks

Williams, Richard, The Independent (London, England)

LUC ALPHAND of France won his first World Cup downhill race at the age of 29 yesterday morning. But, after eight years of trying, he wasn't satisfied. A couple of hours later, as if to convince himself that he really had done it, he went back up the Hahnenkamm mountain, at Kitzbuhel, and won another one.

There was a sort of justice in this double victory for the Frenchman on Austrian territory. Four weeks ago, in the season's opening race at Val d'Isere, Alphand looked well set for a home win until a 20-year-old Austrian, Josef "Pepi" Strobl, taking par t in the first World Cup race of his life and coming down from a starting position so late that the lights had almost been switched off, dashed the cup from his lips.

"This was a big revenge for me," Alphand said yesterday, his pleasure barely diminished by the knowledge that his wins had been recorded over a shortened version of the legendary course on the Hahnenkamm mountain.

While there have been many better downhill races at Kitzbuhel than yesterday's, surely none has been prettier. The metre and a half of snow that landed on the old Tyrolean town between Tuesday night and Friday morning left the place looking like a tourism director's dream, but forced the organisers to draw the teeth of the notorious Streif piste.

Under an unblemished Bugatti-blue sky, with the first real snow of the winter frosting the trees and icing the churches, and with sub-zero temperatures making the white stuff crackle underfoot, the racers looked down on an unfamiliar view. Missing was the jolting sheer drop from the traditional starting hut followed by the double trauma of the impossibly steep Mausefalle and the hurtling drop of the Steilhang. In a downhill season which, until this weekend, had been wrecked by the absence of snow, the sheer volume of it forced the race director, the triple Olympic champion Toni Sailer, to shorten his historic 3.2km home course by lopping off the first 460 metres.

"Anyone who does well here today will always know that he didn't face the full challenge," said Martin Bell, the veteran British downhiller, who finished 42nd and 31st yesterday. Others felt that the 55th edition of the Hahnenkammrennen retained its essence despite the loss.

"The start area is kind of a sacred place," said Ed Podivinsky, the 24-year-old Canadian who came fourth in the first of yesterday's races behind Alphand, Patrick Ortlieb of Austria and Kristian Ghedina of Italy. "It always makes the racers nervous. Theygo quiet up there. But today the guys were much more relaxed. I even heard some jokes. But it's still bumpy, and it's still icy, and you never feel like you're in control."

Pushing off from an improvised gate at the top of the Steilhang, the racers were still confronted by a severe test from the Streif's usual combination of sheet ice and bone-rattling corrugations. "It's an old course," Podivinsky pointed out, "so it does n 't have to abide by the new regulations, which means that it's steeper, narrower and more dangerous."

And even with its incisors removed, the Streif could bite.

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