The list of honours won by HEAD racers during the 2010 – 2011 FIS Alpine World Cup season is simply impressive: one Overall Crystal Globe, six discipline Globes as well as the largest World Championship medal haul with five Golds, two Silvers and three Bronze medals. To top it all off, HEAD were the most successful brand of skis on the World Cup. After the success of the 2010 season, the 2011 Rebels raised the bar again.
Great things were expected from the HEAD racers in 2011 and the World Cup Rebels racers delivered. Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Lindsey Vonn battled all the way through the season in the most exciting Women’s World Cup for many years. Across all five disciplines the two made every point count, by the end of the season they could only be separated by three points: Maria took the Overall Globe and Lindsey took the Downhill, Super G and Super Combined Globes.
In the race for the Men’s Globes, Didier Cuche scored high pressure wins to grab the Downhill and Super G Globes while Ted Ligety was on fire in Giant Slalom and won the first three Giant Slalom races of the season on his way to the Globe, Aksel Lund Svindal took second in the discipline and Kjetil Jansrud fourth with Didier Cuche making it four in the top ten for the season long Globe. Cuche would also finish second in the Overall Globe.
It was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen that the HEAD skiers really excelled this last season: Lizz Goergl took the opening two speed events as the HEAD girls secured a clean sweep in the Downhill with Lindsey Vonn taking silver and Maria Hoefl-Riesch taking bronze to add to her bronze in the Super G. Anna Fenninger then took the Gold in the Super Combined with Anja Paerson taking the bronze. With Ted Ligety taking Gold in the Giant Slalom and Aksel Lund Svindal Gold in the Super Combined, HEAD were the number 1 ski brand at the World Championships in 2011.
And now for 2012.
The HEAD World Cup Rebels have been around the world in search of the best snow so that they are better prepared for the new season: With speed skiers in South America and technical skiers in North America, New Zealand and Europe, the 2012 season promises to be just as exciting for the HEAD racers. With four time World Cup winner Daniel Albrecht joining the Speedoholics this season, the excitement for the new season is justified. The past is the past and now the future is the new measurement.
With the weight of selfexpectation lifted off her shoulders, Maria Hoefl-Riesch is “still very motivated and will try her best to defend the Overall title,” she admits, “But I do not feel this huge pressure anymore,” the newly married German added. Consistency was Hoefl-Riesch’s trump card last season as she battled her way to the Overall Title. Going into the new season she feels that she is “really happy with the new GS skis. The new ideas and innovations HEAD put into these skis are very efficient. The skis are even more stable on bumpy slopes and give me lots of power and speed during the whole turn.”
For Lindsey Vonn, the new Super G skis are her pick of the pack. After so many years of being the hunted, Lindsey Vonn goes into the new season as the hunter. Does this mean she will change her mindset or programme? “No not really, my program has worked well for me over the years, and when things work well you try not to change them too much. Of course we always look closely and examine where we can do things better, but for the most part I am doing a very similar program to what I have done in the past. I have been in both the hunter and hunted positions over the years and the bottom line is no matter what position you are in, you have to win races if you want to win titles it's as simple as that. So that will be my focus.”
While making sure that the skis are fast, it is the full package that is important. For World Champions Lizz Goergl and Anna Fenninger, the summer has seen work done on making sure their boots are ready to react to every bump and turn. With the large number of racers in New Zealand, Fenninger was able to talk with Aksel Lund Svindal regarding the set up of boots: “I got some good tips from him,” she admitted! The desire for tougher courses, harder pistes and a liking for the jumps, means that getting the boots as well as the skis dialled in is vital for Goergl! With the men and the women all swapping notes on the boots, Norway in spring saw Anja Paerson, Aksel Lund Svindal and Didier Cuche all working together to get the best set up.
What makes the HEAD racers unique is each racer has their own programme in search of success: Anja Paerson, one of the most successful female racers at major championships of all time spent most of the summer resting. For Paerson it was her “second season with no skiing in the summer. I took time to really get fit and focus on getting my injuries ok again. I worked really hard during spring time with my skis and boots so I could easy relax during the summer.”
Sarka Zahrobska knows what it is like to be a World Champion, having won the Slalom title in 2007. After having spent the beginning and end of the season testing kit, Sarka is looking to gain the Slalom initiative back this season. Like all of her HEAD team mates, the HEAD team’s success motivates her even more.
And so we move to the men.
With three small Globes to defend, the Overall Globe is what every racer strives to win: “The winner of the Overall is the best skier in the world that year,” explains Aksel Lund Svindal. “Success breeds more success” adds Kjetil Jansrud and the desire to win is there with every HEAD racer. From Didier Cuche and Ted Ligety, the Globe winners, the preparation that goes into being the best is meticulous and defined.
Yet each racer knows the power of his own programme in making sure he gets to his first race in the best shape: From Bode Miller and Werner Heel benefitting from spending time at home getting the body ready before heading to New Zealand and South America respectively, to fine tune the technique, to new boy Daniel Albrecht and Didier Cuche preparing in Europe before heading to the South American mountains: All the racers know that the full package needs to be ready when the racing starts.
For World Cup Rebels Miller and Cuche Kitzbuehel is a classic they are looking forward to. Who can forget the 2011 race that saw Miller put in an incredible run and then he had to stand aside and applaud Cuche’s winning run that even had the legend Franz Klammer in awe? This was classic downhill racing by two HEAD racers. With Werner Heel chomping at the bit to join in the podium success story for the new season, the speed specialists are raring to go when the season kicks off. For Ligety, the first race of the season in Soelden is one of the highlights of the season as it “gives you a gauge on how the summer training has gone.”
While some racers prefer to discuss things with their serviceman, others talk shop amongst themselves: Norwegians Aksel Lund Svindal and Kjetil Jansrud along with Americans Ted Ligety, Bode Miller and Warner Nickerson, are often to be found discussing how they can tweak the equipment to gain that extra bit. Jansrud explains that “the amount of time spent on skis and boots development really paid off last year, and seeing as we have brought it up to a whole new level this year, it better be good!”
The new breed of racers are embracing the interaction with their fans through use of social networking media. The responsibility to their fans is something that they are acutely aware of. Daniel Albrecht explains: “We’re lucky to have fans. They’re the reason why we were able to make our hobbies our jobs. This is something I appreciate every day. Without fans we would not be able to do what we do and I try to give as much as possible back to my fans! This mainly happens via social media.”
The optimism for the new season is highlighted by both Heel and Albrecht; two racers in similar yet contrasting situations. For Heel “HEAD's professionalism, its working mentality and humour will definitely help me to get on that successful track! I would say that HEAD offers me the best opportunities to get the best set up. We are testing and working all year in order to push innovation forward and to get the best out of the material we have at disposal. … It makes me feel very optimistic.”
The desire to improve the team and push the success further impressed Daniel Albrecht, the new boy in the group: “My primary goal for changing supplier was finding a ski that fits with me and the disciplines I’m competing in – seeing other athletes having been very successful on HEAD was another important reason. But if other athletes win races on a specific ski brand this doesn’t have to mean that you automatically win races too… But of course in general you have to feel good on your new gear. If you don’t you can’t be fast.”
Whether it is exchanging ideas with other racers or engaging with the fans, the HEAD racers are united in wanting to push themselves further but safely. Improvement through innovation is vital to the sport and its stars. Bode Miller sums up this thought by saying “it makes sense to have athletes advance the sport through innovation.”
For Didier Cuche being part of the HEAD World Cup Rebels is an honour and when young racers compare themselves to him “It is always great and a good feeling!” That is what it feels like to be a HEAD World Cup Rebel.