Walchhofer, Rahlves set for season-long downhill duel


Walchhofer, Rahlves set for season-long downhill duelMichael Walchhofer of Austria, last year’s downhill champion, is one of the favorites to win at Lake Louise this weekend. The Altenmarkt native was third in both downhill and super G here last season, and won the downhill in 2003. He was the last one to finish inspecting the training run on Friday, and says the Lake Louise course looks great this year.

‘It’s beautiful to ski’ he said. ‘It’s a highway. … We haven’t raced since April, and I think every racer is happy he can race and show the other guys how fast he is.’

Walchhofer has a big target on his back, and American Daron Rahlves is one of those aiming at it. Rahlves has declared it his main goal to win the World Cup downhill title, which has gone to Austrians ever since 1999 (when Lasse Kjus of Norway claimed it).

‘I’ll get paid as much winning a GS or super G title, but this title is the one I want’ Rahlves said. ‘In my eyes, that’s number one. … Every single week matters. Downhill is number one. There’s definitely big highlights, Kitzbuehel and Beaver Creek and the O’s [Olympics]. But week to week I’ll put it together for the title.’

Rahlves weighs 185 pounds; Walchhofer is 223.

‘I’ve always known that, and I’ve always been told that, but it doesn’t make a difference’ Rahlves said. ‘Walchhofer’s going to beat me unless I get a better start, so I’ve got to find ways to take more speed into the flats, get a better start. Or I have to concentrate on relaxing and gliding well.’

Walchhofer trained one day of slalom in November while the Austrian team was training in Canada. ‘Sun Peaks was really good’ he said. ‘We had a good piste, and we could do all four disciplines.’

The reigning World Cup downhill champion, Walchhofer is known primarily as a downhiller – the tallest man on the circuit and a possessor of superb gliding skills. But he started his career as a slalom skier.

Now, gunning for the overall title, he is obliged to train slalom occasionally so he can collect points in this season’s four combined races.

The Lake Louise course suits Walchhofer as much as any on the tour. It is not ideal for Rahlves, who prefers steeper, more gnarly downhills with big jumps.

‘But I’m happy with the snow here this year’ Rahlves said. ‘The harder the snow is, the more advantage I have.’

The final downhill training run was moved up to 11 a.m. Friday from the originally scheduled 12:30 p.m. to avoid the freezing rain that was predicted for the afternoon in some weather forecasts.

Conditions are fragile in Lake Louise, where there is just enough snowcover to hold the race. ‘In some spots the snow is only five centimeters deep in the track’ said Guenter Hujara, the FIS race director.

This was the last of three training runs (Antoine Deneriaz and Aksel Lund Svindal won the first two). The run determines the start position for Saturday’s race, the first downhill of the year. The top 30 athletes in Friday’s run will be reversed on Saturday.

Should Friday’s training run have been cancelled, the top 30 start order would have been based on the World Cup start list – the top 20 selecting their start positions and the next 10 after that being scrambled randomly.

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