Who but Kilde?
That the winner of the 54th edition of the Saslong Classic would have to race past Aleksander Aamodt Kilde was already clear long before the Norwegian clocked the best time in the final training for the downhill classic on Saturday. The 29-year-old feels right at home in Val Gardena/Gröden and is hunting for his next podium wins on the venerable Saslong after his speed double gold in 2020.
Kilde currently has eight World Cup victories to his name, three of which captured in South Tyrol. For the Norwegian, the speed course in Val Gardena/Gröden has turned into his backyard in recent years. "The hill here not only perfectly fits me, but also all my teammates. The snow conditions and the peculiarities of the race track suit us very well. We can make clean turns here and therefore feel very comfortable," Kilde analyzes.
The overall World Cup winner from 2019/20 has long since followed in the footsteps of his compatriot Aksel Lund Svindal, who with a total of seven triumphs in super-G and downhill is the record winner on the Saslong. When asked about his love of the race week in Val Gardena/Gröden, Kilde can't stop gushing: "The cool people, the good food, the beautiful accommodations - I just love everything here," quips the Scandinavian, who can already look back on a stellar start to the season with two victories in Beaver Creek.
As if he had never been away
The fact that Kilde had such a furious start to the World Cup winter came as a surprise to many. After all, the powerhouse only tore his cruciate ligament in January 2021, which put him out of action for many months and also noticeably limited his preparation for the Olympic season.
Kilde himself was surprised by his speedy return to the top of the world: "After the first races in Lake Louise and Beaver Creek, I actually thought that I still needed some time to catch up. But I already managed a victory in the second super-G in the USA - that was a great feeling. At the moment I don't have any more problems with my knee. That gives me a lot of confidence for tasks ahead," said the Norwegian.
Confidence as a recipe for success
In view of the recent World Cup and the Val Gardena/Gröden results of the last few years, all eyes will be on Kilde this weekend. However, this pressure hardly affects him: "The important thing is that the self-confidence is there. That is a decisive factor in skiing. If you can go into a race with confidence, it is easier to implement the things you have planned," emphasizes the 29-year-old.
Even though Kilde is tackling the races on the Saslong as the top favorite, he knows about the strengths of the competition. "I have a lot of confidence in Ryan Cochran-Siegle. He has a very nice skiing style and is always strong in Val Gardena/Gröden,” the Scandinavian adds cautiously.
In addition to the American, who attracted attention last year with second place in the downhill, Kilde also has the usual suspects on his list: these include Matthias Mayer, Vincent Kriechmayr, Beat Feuz and Dominik Paris - four racers who were nowhere close to the lead in the training sessions. "You can't compare a training with the race. When it gets serious, a lot can happen," was the dry comment of the three-time Val Gardena/Gröden winner, who has long since set his sights on triumphs number four and five on the Saslong.