VAL D'ISERE – VAL D'Long after most broadcasters switched from the race to other programs, unheralded No. 41 starter Martin Cater won the first downhill of the World Cup season on Sunday.
The television networks had a point. The 27-year-old Slovenian’s career-best result was eighth in his 38 previous World Cup downhills and he seemed unlikely to disturb an already unexpected 1-2 finish.
Instead, Cater raced down in bright sunshine under clear blue skies in the French Alps to seal an even more shocking podium result.
“For me it was a really good run but I didn’t believe it,” said Cater, who was 0.22 seconds faster than Otmar Striedinger to deny the Austrian his first career win.
Striedinger was wearing bib No. 26 after dropping out of the top-ranked group last season, and had a best of third place in his 64 previous World Cup downhills.
Urs Kryenbühl was third, 0.27 back. The little-known Swiss seemed set for his debut win after being fastest of the top 20-ranked racers. He had a single top-10 result in his 41 career World Cup races, though that was as runner-up last year in Bormio, Italy.
Both Striedinger and Kryenbühl earlier thought victory was theirs.
“It was a cool feeling and a good experience," Kryenbühl said about sitting in the leader's box course-side, though he added: "Every skier knows that all of the guys who are standing on the start gate are pretty good skiers and the race is finished when all are at the bottom.”
Both one-time leaders had taken part in a brief victory ceremony that World Cup organizers always stage after the top-30 downhill racers complete their run.
Those now outdated photographs included the defending World Cup overall champion, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who was pushed down to fourth by Cater’s surprise success.
Asked what placing he expected on crossing the finish line, Cater said: “I was hoping not 36 or 37. It’s difficult to understand sometimes.”
Though Cater was a rare long-shot win in men's downhill, his No. 41 is not even the highest bib number to win at Val d'Isère. In 1994, Josef Strobl wore No. 61 to victory there.
The World Cup men's record is No. 66 Markus Foser winning a downhill in December 1993 at Val Gardena, Italy.
Cater's previous best World Cup results were a pair of sixth places, including in the Alpine combined event last January at Wengen, Switzerland.
Though he enjoyed excellent snow conditions and visibility starting his run just after midday, the sun had lit up the 3-kilometer (1.9 mile) Oreiller-Killy course from the beginning a little after 10:30 a.m. (0930 GMT).
Beat Feuz and Dominik Paris, the most prolific downhill racers in recent years, placed sixth and 10th, respectively.
Defending World Cup downhill champion Feuz clocked the fastest speed-check at 116 kph (72mph) after losing time going wide at a turn in the mid-section.
American racer Ryan Cochran-Siegle was fastest of all on the bottom half of the course, yet trailing 0.81 behind the winning time was good for only 13th place.
The downhill was moved back one day from its scheduled slot to seek better weather. A super-G run Saturday amid light snowfalls and fog was won by another first-time winner, 32-year-old Mauro Caviezel of Switzerland.
No fans were allowed to attend the weekend races because of limits on public gatherings in France during the coronavirus pandemic.
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