By Patrick Lang
LAKE LOUISE, Alberta, Nov 24 - Aksel Lund Svindal made the most of his experience and terrain knowledge to clinch his fourth World Cup victory in Lake Louise, this time in a downhill, on Saturday.
"To me, it's like home here. The snow, the cold, the landscape, it's very similar to Norway and I've always had good feelings here," said the Norwegian, who won his maiden World Cup victory on the same piste seven years ago.
The 2007 and 2009 overall World Cup champion, winner of three Super-Gs in past seasons in the Canadian resort, beat the Austrian duo of Max Franz and Klaus Kroell and American Marco Sullivan for the sixth downhill win of his World cup career.
Sullivan, starting after a long break following a crash by Italy's Mattia Casse, was joint third with Kroell.
In one minute and 48.31 seconds, Svindal beat the up and coming Franz by 0.64 seconds while downhill World Cup holder Kroell and Sullivan were 0.02 seconds further off the pace.
It was Svindal's second back-to-back victory in the blue-ribband alpine discipline after his top spot in Schladming at the World Cup finals in March.
In all, the 29-year-old all-rounder has now won 17 World Cup races and will be a leading contender once again this winter, especially in speed events.
"It's very important for me to start a season like this. It shows that the morale is high, that the equipment is good. I feel I'm as strong and possibly stronger than ever in the speed events," he said.
The retirement of Swiss Didier Cuche at the end of last season, the injury of fellow-Swiss Beat Feuz, who ended his season prematurely with a knee injury, and the laidback approach of American Bode Miller, who has not resumed competition yet, left the downhill a much more open discipline this winter.
But the men on the Lake Louise podium were also the in-form specialists, having dominated the practice runs.
"It was a morale-booster to win the training run. Now I'm looking for consistency all winter in downhills and super-G's as it will be impossible to compete with Ted Ligety and Marcel Hirscher in giant slaloms," Svindal said.
Canada's Erik Guay pleased home fans by finishing sixth, 1.17 behind Svindal, while Germany's Tobias Stechert was a surprising fourth.
Franz's first-ever World Cup medal spot, at 23, was a reward for a young and promising skier whose early career has already been hampered by injury.
Kroell also was most surprised to be back on a podium so early as he broke his foot in a motor-cross accident in April and only resumed training recently.
"Only two weeks ago, I was three seconds off the pace of my team-mates' in training. This goes to show I have reserves," he said.
Sullivan's joint third spot, in spite of his number 42 bib, was hardly a shock as the American had finished second in the Lake Louise downhill in 2007.
The race also marked the return to competition of 2009 downhill world champion John Kucera after a three-year hiatus. The Canadian broke his leg in Lake Louise three years ago, missing the Vancouver Olympics because of the fracture.
He finished 36th.
The Lake Louise weekend continues with a Super-G on Sunday.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)