Austria’s Nicole Schmidhofer wins Lake Louise women’s World Cup downhill

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. — Nicole Schmidhofer claimed the first World Cup victory of her career Friday by winning the season-opening downhill.

The 29-year-old Austrian was the fastest woman in the final training run and carried her speed over into the race in Lake Louise, Alta.

“I never thought my first World Cup victory will be a downhill and for sure not in Lake Louise,” Schmidhofer said.

She was third in super-G in 2017. In a decade of racing downhills at the Alberta ski resort, however, Schmidhofer had never finished higher than eighth.

“In recent years, the jumps were bigger and higher and a little bit of a problem for me,” the five-foot-two racer said. “This year, I saw the slope and maybe the chances will be better.

“I thought ‘make it like training from the top to the bottom.”’

Schmidhofer posted a top time of one minute 48.13 seconds in flat light because of cloudy skies.

She won super-G gold at the 2017 world championship, but her best World Cup result prior to Friday was a super-G silver in 2013.

Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin, the first woman to kick out of the start hut Friday, was second in 1:48.26.

“I really wanted to take bib one because when we start really late, it’s good to get down early,” Gisin said. “The visibility wasn’t really good for anyone, so I’m super-glad I did a great run.”

Germany’s Kira Weidle was third, half a second back of Schmidhofer, for the 22-year-old’s first podium.

“It means a lot to me,” Weidle said. “Last year I was eighth here in Lake Louise, which was already good, but I’m really happy to do one step forward and be on the podium. That’s crazy.”

Another downhill is scheduled for Saturday followed by Sunday’s super-G.

So Schmidhofer’s celebration of her first win in 128 World Cup starts was going to be mellow.

“Not beer because tomorrow is also a race,” she said. “Good coffee and cake.”

Slovenia’s Ilka Stuhec, who swept both downhills in 2016, was sixth in her first start in over a year. The reigning women’s world downhill champion did not race in 2017-18 because of a knee injury.

Defending overall World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. was ninth.

Roni Remme of Collingwood, Ont., was the top Canadian in 35th.

“I brought some intensity to my ride,” said the 22-year-old Remme. “It was tough with the lighting because of the clouded skies. Every time I see the track, I feel that I learn something new.”

The women’s speed season opened without stars Sofia Goggia of Italy, the reigning Olympic downhill champ, and American Lindsey Vonn.

Goggia fractured her ankle in training in October. Vonn injured her knee in a training fall in November.

Vonn has won a record 18 World Cup races at Lake Louise, including 14 downhills.

Although the 34-year-old has said this season will be her last, Vonn announced Friday she intends to return to Lake Louise in 2019 for one more series of speed races.

“I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t take that one last chance to push out of the starting gate in Lake Louise,” Vonn said.

With 82 career World Cup wins, Vonn is five away from the record held by Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark.

Shiffrin’s best ski discipline is slalom as the owner of back-to-back Olympic titles.

But the 23-year-old showed downhill talent in Lake Louise last year when she was first and third.

“I’m an everything racer,” Shiffrin said. “I’m definitely racing in every event. My biggest thing is I’m still trying to get experience and understanding all the different intricacies of what can make you faster or slower.

“There’s still so much that I still have to learn, but I’m feeling better and better on my skis so it’s kind of time on the skis and time on the tracks and getting used to that.”

Valerie Grenier of St-Isidore, Ont., was 36th and Marie-Michele Gagnon of Lac Etchemin, Que., was 44th.

In Beaver Creek, Colo., Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., placed 38th in a men’s downhill.

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