Bryce Bennett of the United States sprang a major shock by winning the first World Cup men’s downhill race of the season at Val Gardena in Italy on Thursday.
The 31-year-old from Palisades Tahoe, who started with No 34 bib, crossed first on a shortened course in a time of 1min 23.80sec, three hundredths ahead of Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, a three-time winner at the Dolemites resort, and five better than Marco Odermatt of Switzerland, the reigning world champion in the discipline.
The 6ft 7in Californian’s second career win came nearly two years to the day of his first on the same course after having never previously finished higher than fourth in 106 World Cup starts.
Bennett used his tall frame to absorb the terrain in the technical Ciaslat section that characterizes the track, and crouched into an aerodynamic tuck to make up time on Kilde and Odermatt in the steep final gates.
When he saw the result, Bennett held his arms out wide in apparent disbelief and flashed a wide smile framed by his mustache.
Kilde, who started 10th, had already celebrated as if he had won after edging Odermatt, who started sixth. Kilde and Odermatt were already giving interviews when Bennett came down, prompting them to turn around and see what happened.
Bennett rode BMX bikes as a kid, so the bumps in the Ciaslat suit his style. He’s never won anywhere else.
Still, it was a sharp improvement for Bennett after his best finish last season was 10th.
It was the sixth victory for the US team in Val Gardena. The recently retired Steven Nyman won three downhills and Bode Miller won a super-G.
Bennett’s ski technician is Leo Mussi, who used to also work with Nyman – and four-time Val Gardena downhill winner Kristian Ghedina before that.
In perfect conditions, Nils Allegre was 0.13 behind in fourth with bib No 25 to narrowly miss out on a first career podium result. World super-G champion Jack Crawford was fifth.
The race was rescheduled from the yet-to-be-run Zermatt-Cervinia cross-border event last month. Speed races in Beaver Creek, Colorado, were also canceled a couple of weeks ago.
A super-G is scheduled for Friday on the Saslong, followed by another downhill on Saturday. Then there are giant slalom races in nearby Alta Badia on Sunday and Monday for a series of five races in five days.