WENGEN: MORE CLASSIC RAHLVES: AMERICAN WINS LAUBERHORN DH


WENGEN: MORE CLASSIC RAHLVES: AMERICAN WINS LAUBERHORN DHWENGEN, Switzerland – Daron Rahlves managed a few tasks Saturday.

The American won the 76th annual Lauberhorn downhill in front of 25,000 revved-up fans in the shadow of the ominous Eiger. He stepped considerably closer to his season goal of claiming the World Cup downhill title. He cemented his status of favorite in the Olympic downhill when the Games play out in Italy next month. And he managed to gather up some flowers for wife Michelle, who was celebrating a birthday.

‘I don’t think you ever have a perfect run, but it felt very close’ Rahlves said after notching another major resume booster and earning his own flower ceremony on the podium.

With Bode Miller struggling to an 11th-place finish, the Austrians responded to Rahlves’ scintillating run by claiming second, third and fourth. Rahlves clocked 2 minutes, 30.54 seconds, besting Michael Walchhofer (.40 back) and Fritz Strobl (1.06 back).

For Rahlves, it was his third downhill win of the season – no other World Cupper has more than one. Rahlves moved up to third in the downhill standings with 330 points, with Strobl leading with 415 points and Walchhofer second with 372. But points battles are secondary when a classic is on the line. And make no mistake – Wengen, with its storied past, zealous fans and monster of a course, is a classic.

‘The Lauberhorn is one of those races that’s so exciting’ Rahlves said. ‘There’s so many people coming up on the train, there’s hundreds of helicopter rides dropping people off, the whole course is lined, the start is packed. It’s amazing – lots of energy and intensity.’

Rahlves, who won downhills earlier this year at Beaver Creek, Colorado, and Bormio, Italy, joins Bill Johnson (1984) and Kyle Rasmussen (1995) as the only Americans to win at Wengen. Rasmussen was out fishing Saturday, so he could not be reached for comment on Rahlves’ historic win, which tied him with Picabo Street for most American downhill victories (nine).

‘I’ve always kind of been told that I couldn’t win here’ said Rahlves, who also owns a Hahnenkamm downhill crown. ‘Until two years ago when I was second here. Then I knew I had a chance of winning this race. But I had to do everything just right, be competitive at the top, and from the Hundschopf down just tear up the course as well as I can.

‘You have to fight on this hill. It’s pretty icy, there’s a lot of bumps, and that last little section you’re holding on. It’s tiring, a long downhill.’

The course, the longest on the men’s World Cup, hosted a super combined Friday (Austrian Benni Raich won) and hosts a two-run slalom Sunday before the tour heads to Kitzbuehel.

Hermann Maier was fourth Saturday, while Switzerland placed two racers in the top 10, with Ambrosi Hoffman seventh and Didier Defago eighth. American Marco Sullivan was 16th, scoring his first World Cup points since he started his long comeback.

Maier is now much closer — possibly certain — to win one of the Austrian team’s coveted Olympic downhill start bibs. Strobl and Walchhofer have almost certainly clinched, and with Mario Scheiber and Hans Grugger injured, there’s talk that the fourth and final spot might go to someone such as Klaus Kroell (who happened to have the fastest recorded time, of 96.6 miles per hour exiting the Haneggschuss).

USSA CEO Bill Marolt, who witnessed a near-miss Friday when Miller barely straddled a gate and was disqualified in what would have been a super combined win, had reason to smile in the finish area Saturday. ‘[Wengen] is an awesome race’ Marolt said. ‘It’s a hundred years old. … Unless you’ve raced it, you don’t know how hard it is, so I know what [Rahlves] did today. He did a hell of a job.’

Rahlves won on new skis – his old skis. A few weeks back, Atomic fitted him with a new pair of speed skis, and he used them to win the Bormio downhill Dec. 29. But a few days of subpar training and his super combined downhill DNF Friday led Rahlves to re-evaluate. Saturday, he switched back to his former skis.

‘Some skis work in better conditions, and there’s a lot of water on this hill, it’s very icy’ Rahlves said. ‘[My Bormio skis] were set up more for aggressive snow and here you need something that’s going to hold on ice well. It’s nice with Atomic because you have a lot of options. I was trying to run on the same skis I was using in Bormio, but that didn’t happen. Little things, fine tuning, the whole package is important.

‘The biggest thing is I came out skiing smooth and strong today. You can have the best skis in the world, best boots in the world and all that, but it doesn’t matter, there’s like 10 other guys on the same stuff. It comes down to putting your mind in the right spot and skiing.’

Rahlves’ win, coming after a disappointing week of training and a DNF in the super combined downhill, has rivals at full attention.

‘When it gets fast and difficult, he always gets better’ Strobl said. ‘He takes a lot of risks, but he knows how to ski in the right line. The more difficult it gets, the better he skis.’

Strobl started third, Walchhofer fourth, and those early starts looked unbeatable until Rahlves came down in the 16th start slot and left no doubt.

‘The Lauberhorn is one of the most difficult courses on the World Cup, especially this year because we had the combined as well, with 100 people skiing on it. It makes it very difficult’ Strobl said. ‘It’s very good to be counted among the favorites for the Olympics, but Daron is the favorite right now.’

Earlier in the week, Strobl won the first training run (Canada’s Erik Guay won the second one).

Walchhofer said he made two big mistakes, one on the big S turn before the bridge halfway down the Lauberhorn, the other at the final S turn. ‘The S is a very difficult passage because you have to come into it very clean technically’ he said. ‘My father, who is a ski instructor, was not very happy, even though I skied fast, [with my shoulder technique]. … The passages that are very difficult in Kitzbuehel, I am probably going to go back to my dad and take an hour of ski instruction to help me with.’

Miller was seeking redemption after his close call in the combined.

“I had some bobbles at the top of the Hundschopf,” Miller said. “That’s a really costly mistake. … I just lost my ski there for a second, you could feel the seconds go away. I had some mistakes down below, on the Minschkante, I didn’t ski very through the chicane, I didn’t ski very well in the super-G turn. It was a bumpy course and I don’t really like the bumpy stuff much.”

Other Americans racing were Scott Macartney, who finished 26th, Justin Johnson (41st) and Steve Nyman (DNF). Johnson lost control across the finish line and barreled hard into the cushioned end wall of the race arena, but suffered no major injury.

“He brought the noise today,” said Sullivan of his fellow Californian Rahlves. “He’s such a humble guy, but he brings so much intensity.”

In the last 10 years, experienced hands have won the Lauberhorn. Kristian Ghedina won in 1997, setting the course record. Then it was Maier (1998), Andreas Schifferer (1998), Lasse Kjus (1999), Pepi Strobl (2000), Stephan Eberharter (2002 a
nd 2003), Bruno Kernen (2003) and Walchhofer (2005).

This was the sixth of 10 men’s downhills on the 2005-06 World Cup calendar. In the bank are Lake Louise, Alberta (Nov. 27); Beaver Creek, Colorado (Dec. 2); Val d’Isere, France (Dec. 10); Val Gardena, Italy (Dec. 16) and Bormio, Italy (Dec. 29). Still to come are Kitzbuehel, Austria (Jan. 21); Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (Jan. 28); Chamonix, France (Feb. 4) and Aare, Sweden (at the Finals, March 15).

76th Lauberhorn
Men’s downhill
Wengen, Switzerland
Jan. 14, 2006

1. Daron Rahlves, USA 2:30.54
2. Michael Walchhofer, AUT 2:30.94
3. Fritz Strobl, AUT 2:31.60
4. Hermann Maier, AUT 2:31.83
5. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, NOR 2:32.55
6. Peter Fill, ITA 2:32.63
7. Ambrosi Hoffmann, SUI 2:32.68
8. Didier Defago, SUI 2:32.76
9. Marco Buechel, LIE 2:32.91
10. Finlay Mickel, GBR 2:32.94
11. Bode Miller, USA 2:32.95
11. Kristian Ghedina, ITA 2:32.95
13. Andreas Schifferer, AUT 2:32.99
14. Aksel Lund Svindal, NOR 2:33.16
15. Roland Fischnaller, ITA 2:33.47
16. Marco Sullivan, USA 2:33.61
17. Kurt Sulzenbacher, ITA 2:33.64
18. Christoph Gruber, AUT 2:33.67
19. Klaus Kroell, AUT 2:34.05
20. Erik Guay, CAN 2:34.09
21. Hannes Reichelt, AUT 2:34.36
22. Andrej Jerman, SLO 2:34.40
23. Pierre-Emmanuel Dalcin, FRA 2:34.46
24. Thomas Graggaber, AUT 2:34.48
25. Marc Bottollier-Lasquin, FRA 2:34.52
26. Scott Macartney, USA 2:34.57
27. John Kucera, CAN CAN
28. Stefan Thanei, ITA 2:34.70
29. Patrick Staudacher, ITA 2:34.75
30. Andreas Buder, AUT 2:34.95
Other North Americans:
36. Manuel Osborne-Paradis, CAN 2:35.29
41. Justin Johnson, USA 2:35.93
47. Jan Hudec, CAN 2:36.95
DNF: Steven Nyman, USA.

THE SCOOP

By Hank McKee

Equipment
Men’s DH, Wengen, Jan. 14, 2006

Skier, skis/boots/bindings
1. Rahlves, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
2. Walchhofer, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
3. Strobl, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon
4. Maier, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
5. Aamodt, Dynastar/Lange/Tyrolia
6. Fill, Dynastar/Lange/Look
7. Hoffmann, Stoeckli/Atomic/Atomic
8. Defago, Rossignol/Lange/Rossignol
9. Buechel, Head/Lange/Tyrolia
10. Mickel, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic

Men’s downhill, Wengen, Switzerland, Jan. 14, 2006. … It is the 20th event of the men’s 34 race, four combined World Cup schedule. … It is the sixth of 10 scheduled DHs. … It is the 76th Internationale Lauberhornrennen. … The 32nd World Cup DH at Wengen. … It is the second of three events scheduled at Wengen.

It is the 12th career win for Daron Rahlves. … His ninth in DH. … He matches Picabo Street for most DH wins by an American in history. … It is the 158th U.S. win. … And sxth U.S. win this season. … It is the third win of the season for Rahlves, all in DH. … He is fourth on the all-time U.S. win list behind Phil Mahre (27), Bode Miller (20) and Tamara McKinney (18). … He is the third American to win the Wengen DH. … Others to have accomplished that are Kyle Rasmussen Jan. 21, 1995, and Billy Johnson Jan. 14, 1984. … Buddy Werner won the Lauberhorn title in 1958, finishing second in DH and 3rd SL to win the combined.

It is the 29th career podium for Michael Walchhofer. … His fourth of the season. … Walchhofer won the Wengen DH last season (Jan. 15) and was second Jan. 18, 2003. … He has never finished the Wengen DH worse than second.

It is the 30th career podium for Fritz Strobl. … His fourth of the season. … In the six DHs this season, he has not finished worse than fifth. … It is the second time he has been third at Wengen, the previous Jan. 18, 1997. … He was 12th last season.

Finlay Mickel in 10th earned the best British result in the Wengen DH in the World Cup era. … It is the best British DH result at Wengen since HRD Waghorn was second in 1931.

It is the fifth-best result in six DHs for Bode Miller. … The man he tied, Kristian Ghedina, has won Wengen twice. … It is just the second result of the season for Marco Sullivan, and his best after a 23rd in Val Gradean SG Dec. 16. … It is the 10th scoring result of the season for Erik Guay. … His third career score at Wengen, second in DH. … It is the 12th career scoring result for Scott Macartney. … Sixth of the season. … And second in two days. … It is the ninth career scoring result for John Kucera and fifth of the season.

Benjamin Raich (did not race) maintains the lead in the World Cup overall standings 706-600 over Walchhofer. … Rahlves is third at 589. … Fritz Strobl holds the DH standings lead 415-372 over Walchhofer with Rahlves third at 330. … Winning margin was four-tenths of a second, the second-widest margin in a men’s DH this season (Val d’Isere was 0.5) … Third place was more than a second out. … Fifth was two seconds out. … Andreas Buder in 30th scored points from 4.4 seconds behind the winner.

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