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Kitzbuehel: Walchhofer wins downhill; Rahlves, Miller check in at 3-4

Kitzbuehel: Walchhofer wins downhill; Rahlves, Miller check in at 3-4KITZBUEHEL, Austria – The pieces were in place for Daron Rahlves on Saturday. And despite overnight snow that again tested the mettle of the Kitzbuehel race crew, Truckee’s finest entered the final Hahnenkamm of his brilliant career brimming with confidence.

‘Mentally, I felt like a freight train today’ Rahlves admitted postrace. ‘Nothing could knock me off.’

But along came locomotive Walchhofer, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound express that ripped down a shortened Streif course to win the 66th running of the fabled Hahnenkamm downhill. Austrian Michael Walchhofer’s winning run of 1 minute, 46.75 seconds bested Marco Buechel’s underdog run of 1:46.80 and stole some thunder from Rahlves, who clocked a 1:47.08 – 0.33 back – to take third in his final swoop down the greatest downhill course on the planet.

Click here to read thousands of words of on-the-scene coverage from Ski Racing this week.

‘I had a great support group here’ Rahlves said. ‘There were tons of kids at the start, I heard kids screaming at me, kids from GMVS [Green Mountain Valley School], and from California. I was surprised to hear that many people. It choked me up a bit. Today was a good way to finish it off, getting a third place here. It would have sucked if I was like 29th.’

American Bode Miller was fourth and Canadian Erik Guay fifth in his Kitzbuehel downhill debut. Didier Defago of Switzerland followed, and Italian Kristian Ghedina, also set to call it a career, was seventh.

Friday’s super G winner, Austrian Hermann Maier, struggled to 23rd place Saturday. “I was very surprised they did not start from the top,” Maier said. “The slope for me was obviously too flat at the beginning. It felt like doing cross-country skiing, so I was always pushing and moving, but it didn’t work.”

Miller, a leading contender for Sunday’s combined title (Sunday slalom added to downhill time), may end his streak of consecutive World Cup race starts next week.

“I’ve been thinking about skipping Garmisch, but I don’t know,” he said. “I’m going to train in Reiteralm [Monday] afternoon. … The priority right now is to make sure I have my equipment sorted out well in every event so that I can race hard in every event. I still have some gaps now.”

Miller hasn’t missed a World Cup start in any discipline since March 2002, an almost four-year span that hit 134 with Saturday’s downhill.

Rahlves edged closer to Austrian Fritz Strobl – disqualified after a late slip that resulted in a broken left hand- in the World Cup downhill standings, but Walchhofer, who joined Rahlves as the only multiple winner in the discipline this season, leapfrogged Strobl for the top spot. It was Walchhofer’s first downhill win on the Streif, though he claimed a combined here in 2003.

‘I made a few mistakes’ Walchhofer said. ‘It was extremely difficult today. I was watching the first few racers on TV and at a certain point I didn’t want to watch anymore, because it was so spectacular, very difficult. To make no mistakes today, you had to be very slow.’

Austrians have now won six of the last seven and nine of the last 12 Hahnenkamm downhills.

Early morning fog forced organizers to eliminate the steep Mausefalle section at the top of the course. Walchhofer was slow at the top, but posted the best time in the third and fourth intermediates.

‘At the top I was very direct, maybe too direct, so after that I told myself that you have to risk everything’ he said. ‘The middle section I did well. Everybody knows that I can do well in that part, the gliding sections.’

With only one training run, Walchhofer started in the 30th position, based on World Cup start order, meaning the race was similar in feel to a two-run tech event, with the best skiers skiing last in the top group of 30. Austrian Andreas Buder held the lead for much of the morning before being knocked out by Defago, who ran 21st. Canadian Guay led briefly, before Buechel made a bid to join Liechtenstein Kitzbuehel winners Paul Frommelt (1986 slalom) and Andreas Wenzel (1985 combined).

‘Marco Buechel would have looked very nice on one of the cars’ said Buechel, referring to the tradition of Kitzbuehel organizers etching race winners’ names on the ski resort’s gondola cars. ‘Today was in between fighting and skiing aggressive. In the middle part it was about skiing with a lot of feeling, letting the skis run. Walchhofer managed to ski very aggressive and avoid the big bumps. He’s known for skiing good when you have to have good feeling on your skis and let your skis run.’

The victory lifted Walchhofer’s career total in World Cup racing to eight, including five downhills.

Olympic downhill champion Strobl, who posted by far the fastest time in the opening training run Tuesday, crashed in the Zielschuss section near the bottom of the course. He lost control after landing on the tails of his skis during a jump, but found his footing again after smashing through a gate. Strobl’s broken hand will force him out of next weekend’s Garmisch downhill.

Walchhofer is the 11th man to win the Kitzbuehel downhill in the last decade (there were multiple races some of those years). The previous 10 were: Guenther Mader (1996); Luc Alphand (1997), Strobl (1997, 2000), Didier Cuche (1998); Ghedina (1998); Lasse Kjus (1999, 2004); Hans Knauss (1999); Maier (2001); Stephan Eberharter (2002, 2004) and Rahlves (2003).

Walchhofer used to be a tech-event specialist, but he branched out to the speed events, seeking a more-rounded resume to better obtain race starts on the super-competitive Austrian team. He debuted in downhill at Kitzbuehel in 2001, placing ninth.

‘I was already old enough that the horror stories that all these older guys would tell the rookies didn’t disturb me too much,” he said.

Walchhofer’s win by just .05 is a bit of payback against Buechel, who nabbed his first World Cup downhill win on Dec. 17 when he snuck past runner-up Walchhofer by just .02 at Val Gardena.

‘I would say we’re even’ Buechel joked.

Rahlves will retire with seven career podiums at Kitzbuehel. He was consistent throughout the race, posting intermediate rankings of second, third, fifth and fourth. But a small mistake up top may have cost him a win.

‘I knew I had to take some huge risks on the bottom, so I went into the Hausbergkante super tight and took the riskiest line possible, and it paid off. I won the last split and it bumped me up to the podium,” he said.

Rahlves said he has entertained a somewhat wild notion of racing part time after this season. And his insight on that topic at the postrace press conference was, well, entertaining.

‘I’ve thought about that, maybe just racing Beaver Creek to be on top of it, then come to Bormio, take a little Christmas break, go home … then race here in Kitzbuehel,” Rahlves said. “But this sport demands so much. You have to be so prepared. … I don’t think I’d be on top of my game without training. I wouldn’t want to ski here just to get to the finish line.

“It’s fun to take the risk now, but if you’re not ready for it and you take the risk, it could be a big problem. … You’re risking some bodily injury, and your life.”

Walchhofer now leads the standings with seven of 10 men’s downhills completed: Lake Louise, Alberta (November 27); Beaver Creek, Colorado (Dec. 2); Val d’Isere, France (Dec. 10); Val Ga
rdena, Italy
(Dec. 16); Bormio, Italy (Dec. 29) and Wengen, Switzerland (Jan. 14). The only remaining races are at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (Jan. 28); Chamonix, France (Feb. 4) and Are, Sweden (at the Finals, March 15). The Olympic men’s downhill is on Feb. 12 in Sestriere.
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Ski Racing’s Nathaniel Vinton contributed to this report.

66th Hahnenkamm

Men’s downhill
Kitzbuehel, Austria
Jan. 21, 2006

1. Michael Walchhofer, AUT 1:46.75
2. Marco Buechel, LIE 1:46.80
3. Daron Rahlves, USA 1:47.08
4. Bode Miller, USA 1:47.13
5. Erik Guay, CAN 1:47.43
6. Didier Defago, SUI 1:47.58
7. Kristian Ghedina, ITA 1:47.59
8. Andreas Buder, AUT 1:47.68
9. Antoine Deneriaz, FRA 1:47.80
10. Benjamin Raich, AUT 1:48.00
10. Didier Cuche, SUI 1:48.00
12. Andreas Schifferer, AUT 1:48.05
13. Christoph Gruber, AUT 1:48.08
14. Marco Sullivan, USA 1:48.15
15. Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin, FRA 1:48.16
16. Roland Fischnaller, ITA 1:48.18
17. Bruno Kernen, SUI 1:48.19
18. Hannes Reichelt, AUT 1:48.22
19. Klaus Kroell, AUT 1:48.25
20. Scott Macartney, USA 1:48.49
21. Konrad Hari, SUI 1:48.57
22. Ambrosi Hoffmann, SUI 1:48.76
23. Hermann Maier, AUT 1:48.81
24. Yannick Bertrand, FRA 1:48.86
25. Finlay Mickel, GBR 1:48.91
26. Steven Nyman, USA 1:48.93
27. Patrik Jaerbyn, SWE 1:48.94
28. Peter Fill, ITA 1:49.09
29. Bjarne Solbakken, NOR 1:49.13
30. Stefan Thanei, ITA 1:49.19
Other North Americans:
31. Justin Johnson, USA 1:49.22
39. John Kucera, CAN 1:50.02
40. Francois Bourque, CAN 1:50.07
42. Manuel Osborne-Paradis, CAN 1:50.28

THE SCOOP

By Hank McKee

Equipment
Men’s DH, Kitzbuehel, Jan. 21, 2006

Skier, skis/boots/bindings
1. Walchhofer, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2. Buechel, Head/Lange/Tyrolia
3. Rahlves, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
4. Miller, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
5. Guay, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
6. Defago, Rossignol/Lange/Rossignol
7. Ghedina, Fischer /Lange/Fischer
8. Buder, Head/Lange/Tyrolia
9. Deneriaz, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
10. Raich, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic

Men’s downhill, Kitzbuehel, Austria, Jan. 21, 2006. … It is the 23rd race of the men’s 34 race, four combined World Cup schedule and the seventh of 10 scheduled downhills. … It is the second of a four-race set at Kitzbuehel and the 66th annual Hahnenkamm.

It is the ninth career win for Michael Walchhofer. … His sixth in DH. … His third win of the season, second in DH. … It is his first DH win at Kitzbuehel. … He owns five of the last 10 Austrian DH wins (men and women). … He is the defending World Cup DH champion.

It is the 12th career podium for Marco Buechel. … The fourth in DH. … It is his third podium of the season, all in DH. … He had been never been better than ninth in Kitzbuehel in DH previously. … He had been fourth in SG (Jan. 21, 2000).

It is the 27th career podium for Daron Rahlves. … The 20th in DH. … It is his sixth podium for the season. … The fourth in DH with the other three all wins. … It is his seventh career podium at Kitzbuehel including the DH win (Jan. 25, 2003) and the SG win (Jan. 23, 2004). … That leads U.S. history, which now totals 18 podiums, including Phil Mahre’s six (all in slalom and combined).

It is the 55th career top-four placing for Bode Miller. … His 10th top four in DH. … He has now been top four at Kitzbuehel in DH, SL and CMB. … His previous best in DH at Kitzbuehel had been seventh (Jan. 22, 2004). … It is the fifth career top five for Erik Guay. … Fourth of the season. … Third in DH. … He had never raced at Kitzbuehel previously. … It is the best Canadian result at Kitzbuehel since Ed Podivinsky was fourth Jan. 14, 1995. … Marco Sullivan tied his second-best career World Cup result. … It is the fourth time he has finished 14th in a Cup race. … It is his best of three scoring results this season. … He missed the 2004 and 2005 seasons to injury. … It is the third-best result of the season for Scott Macartney. … He was also seventh in SG and 11th DH, both at Val Gardena in December. … It is the seventh scoring result of the season for Steven Nyman. … Fourth in DH. … Justin Johnson missed scoring a point by three-hundredths of a second.

Benjamin Raich (tied for 10th in race) maintains the World Cup overall standings lead 732-704 over Walchhofer, with Rahlves in third at 689 and Miller fourth at 595. … Walchhofer holds the DH standings lead 472-415 over Fritz Strobl (disqualification). … Rahlves is third at 390 with Buechel fourth at 360 and Miller fifth at 260. … Winning margin is five-hundredths of a second. … Top eight are within a second. … Top 21 within two seconds.

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