Chamonix: Walchhofer wins Thursday’s downhill training

Chamonix: Walchhofer wins Thursday’s downhill training{mosimage}CHAMONIX, France Michael Walchhofer of Austria posted the fastest time Thursday in the final men’s World Cup downhill training session ahead of the weekend’s races.

Walchhofer, the reigning champion in the discipline, led an Austrian sweep in training, finishing the 3,380-meter Piste Verte in 1 minute, 57.35 seconds. Christoph Gruber was second in 1:57.76, followed by Klaus Kroell in 1:57.90.

A victory for Walchhofer in Saturday’s downhill would put Daron Rahlves out of contention for the coveted title. Only Fritz Strobl would still have a chance to claim it.

Only two downhill races and 200 points remain up for grabs this season. Walchhofer leads the standings with 498 points. Strobl is second with 441, followed by Rahlves with 408.

Rahlves, who has set the World Cup downhill title as his principle target before retiring at the end of the season, made a tactical error in training and finished 39th.

The final scheduled training session before a downhill determines the starting order for the race, with the top 30 finishers starting in reverse order. Rahlves, who will start out of the top 30, will have less favorable course conditions on snow already assaulted by the pack.

In an attempt to get an earlier start number, several downhillers brake at the end of their training runs.

”I thought I had some good speed going in the top section and then I shut it down pretty hard and put myself out of the top 30,” Rahlves said. ”But at least I’ll know what I finished right away. I’ll either be happy or sad when I come across the finish line tomorrow because all the top guys are (starting) in front of me.

”I’ll be skipping the bib draw, kicking back, and trying to save some energy up for the little extra bumps and all that,” he added, referring to the mandatory ceremony for the top 30 downhill starters in the town center Thursday evening.

Scott Macartney, who posted a surprise second-place finish in the super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, last weekend, crossed eighth in 1:58.25.

Hermann Maier was ninth in 1:58.26.

Bode Miller skied for the first time since returning from a golfing trip in Dubai with his brother Chelone, and his tactics were more successful than Rahlves. The overall champion crossed 22nd in 1:58.85 and will start ninth on Saturday.

”I played five days,” Miller said. ”The rounds don’t take all day. I was getting up pretty early, just testing and hanging out, going to the gym a little bit. It was nice.”

Miller skipped his first World Cup race in four seasons last weekend, weary of the uproar caused by various comments he made in a series of November interviews for major media outlets, which are only now being released as the Olympics approach.

Miller has been a focus of controversy all season, from his attack on anti-doping regulations to his comments that ”if you ever tried to ski when you’re wasted, it’s not easy.” He also suggested that Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong took performance-enhancing drugs.

Though Miller has all but forfeited the defense of his overall title, he is still considered a favorite to medal in multiple disciplines at the Turin Games, where will enter all five disciplines.

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

This season, Miller has one victory and is fourth in the overall standings. He is 264 points behind leader Benjamin Raich of Austria with only 11 World Cup races remaining this season.

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