Chamonix: Buechel wins Wednesday training for Saturday downhill


Chamonix: Buechel wins Wednesday training for Saturday downhill{mosimage}CHAMONIX, France (AP) – Marco Buechel of Liechtenstein posted the fastest time in Wednesday’s training session for the final World Cup races before the Torino Olympics.

Buechel completed the 3,380-meter (2.1-mile) Piste Verte in 1 minute, 57.41 seconds, positioning himself as one of the main contenders for the downhill here – the site of the first winter games in 1924 – and the 2006 Olympic race in Sestriere.

France’s Antoine Deneriaz clocked the second-fastest time of 1:58.11, while Italian veteran Kristian Ghedina was third in 1:58.22.

The men’s super-combi and downhill will allow skiers to fine tune their technique and equipment for the Turin Games, which start Feb. 10.

The mighty Austrians — led by World Cup downhill leader Michael Walchhofer, defending Olympic champion Fritz Strobl and Hermann Maier, who won the last World Cup downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany — will attempt to put its stamp on the discipline ahead of the Games.

“The confidence is definitely there, probably it will increase,” said Maier, the only man with victories in at least two disciplines this season after winning a giant slalom, super-G and downhill. “I go into this week and the Olympics feeling good and sure of myself.”

Walchhofer tied for fourth with Aksel Lund Svindal, 1.42 back. Strobl and Pierre Emmanuel Dalcin of France tied for sixth, 1.49 behind. Maier was 13th, 1.71 off the pace.

Daron Rahlves, the winner of three downhill races this season, is another favorite this week and at the Olympics. The 32-year-old American is the last skier to have won a downhill on the Olympic course in Sestriere, which resembles the course in Chamonix with its varied terrain.

Fellow American and reigning overall champion Bode Miller skipped the training session. He was scheduled to return later Wednesday from a brief vacation in Dubai.

Miller skipped last weekend’s event in Germany, the first time in almost four years he has missed a World Cup race.

While his absence suggests Miller has all but forfeited the defense of his overall title, he is still considered a favorite to win multiple medals in Sestriere.

The 28-year-old collected two silvers at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, won the downhill and super-G world championship titles in Bormio last year and became the first America in 22 years to win the overall World Cup.

This season has been leaner for Miller, who has just one victory and sits a distant fourth in the overall standings. He is 264 points behind leader Benjamin Raich of Austria with only 11 World Cup races remaining.

For Raich, these two races provide a last tiny chance to snatch the final remaining Olympic downhill berth on the strong Austrian team, which would allow him to compete in every event in Sestriere.

Walchhofer, Strobl and Maier have secured the other three spots. Only four are awarded to each nation in each discipline.

The consistent Klaus Kroell improved his chances of securing the last berth with his second-place finish in Germany, just ahead of Buder, another Austrian hopeful.

“Of course there is the last chance in Chamonix, and this downhill suits me,” Raich said.

Warm weather prompted officials to cancel Tuesday’s training to preserve the piste. Another practice is due Thursday.

-The Associated Press

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