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Val d'Isere: Michael Walchhofer wins downhill; Miller seventh

Val d’Isere: Michael Walchhofer wins downhill; Miller seventhMichael Walchhofer won the Val d’Isere downhill Saturday, leading an Austrian sweep of the podium that included Fritz Strobl and Hans Grugger in second and third.

The race was a letdown for an American team coming off a spectacular week of races at home in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

Bode Miller was the top American, finishing tied for seventh. Daron Rahvles was 14th, Scott Macartney 33rd, Steve Nyman 35th, Justin Johnson 42nd, Marco Sullivan 50th and Ted Ligety 59th.

“It’s just a matter of achieving your potential’ said Walchhofer, asked if the Austrian sweep was revenge for the Beaver Creek races. ‘It’s an important line on your record to have won in Val d’Isere.’

It is the 50th anniversary of the Val d’Isere races, and organizers have commemorated the event by producing a coffeetable book celebrating the race’s high moments over the decades. “I saw that my name will not be in it because I hadn’t won here before,” said Walchhofer.

Walchhofer said he’ll be happy to return to the race next season and see his portrait on the pressroom wall, alongside the other winners.

There were no problems with Grugger’s suit. In Beaver Creek, he and Bode Miller were nearly disqualified after the downhill when their suits failed the first round of the FIS air permeability test. Only after a recalibration of the machine did they pass, drawing a warning from the FIS race director.

The men’s World Cup returns to Europe
The two-race weekend in Val d’Isere includes Saturday’s downhill and a super combined on Sunday. While the men race in Val d’Isere, the women are in Aspen, Colorado, for a three-race series, with super G on Friday, giant slalom Saturday and slalom on Sunday

The Oreiller-Killy course at Val d’Isere is known to favor the World Cup’s natural gliders, but there are several tricky technical sections, including one of the tour’s biggest compressions.

The top skier on the home team, Antoine Deneriaz, is one of the best gliders on the team. He set out to become the first Frenchman to win on the Val d’Isere course since 1995, when Luc Alphand won here (in a two-run sprint downhill), but ended up 16th.

While it starts near the same point, the ‘O.K.’ course is not the one that was used for the 1992 Olympic Winter Games. That course the ‘Face de Bellevarde’ may well be resurrected in time for Val d’Isere’s hosting of the 2009 alpine skiing World Championships.

Heavy snowfall blanketed this part of the French Alps earlier in the week, forcing the cancellation of the first of two scheduled training runs on Thursday (Walchhofer won the successful training run on Friday). In the weeks leading up to the race, organizers blew some 230,000 square meters of artificial snow onto the slope.

This was the third men’s downhill of the year. The first two took place in Lake Louise and Beaver Creek, where Fritz Strobl and Daron Rahlves were the winners. Because Strobl is the current downhill discipline points leader, he wore the red leader’s jersey on Saturday.

Last year, Werner Franz of Austria won the downhill here. Franz is out of action now, suffering from a severe leg injury received this summer while training in South America. He is not expected to return to the sport this season, or perhaps at all.

Miller won a giant slalom at Val d’Isere last season. That win was part-three of his historic four-wins-in-four-disciplines streak, which took only 16 days.

Maier, who turned 33 on Wednesday, has won one previous World Cup race this season: the season-opening giant slalom at Soelden, Austria.

How the Americans did
Only four American men have made it onto Val d’Isere’s wall of fame. Buddy Werner was the first American man to win races in Val d’Isere, taking home gold trophies in both slalom and combined in 1963. Since the World Cup was founded, three different American men have won World Cup races here: Phil Mahre (GS, 1976; combined, 1976 and 1979); AJ Kitt (downhill, 1991); and Bode Miller (GS, 2001 and 2004).

Seven Americans started in the race: Rahlves, Miller, Justin Johnson, Steve Nyman, Scott Macartney, Marco Sullivan and Ted Ligety.

‘I skied pretty well, but I made a few mistakes and there’s not a lot of chances to make speed up’ said Miller. ‘I didn’t really care that I won the race [in Beaver Creek]. It was just that the way that I skied was really exciting.’

Rahlves, who has named winning the downhill title as his No. 1 goal this season, finished 15th. ‘It’s super frustrating, because I come into this race every year fired up, trying to be positive, but it’s always the same, it’s always slow’ said Rahvles, whose best result on the slope is a seventh.

Johnson had a disappointing run after finishing fifth in the last training run. ‘I want to do one of these interviews soon where it’s a good race day’ said Johnson. ‘I’m skiing fast, so it’s bound to happen.’

Nyman nearly raced in a Canadian suit, having left his in a car that Ligety borrowed on the morning of the race (Ligety was going to the pressroom to check his e-mail). ‘I was about to go up and race, but on racer 15 I checked the parking lot one last time, and he showed up right then’ said Nyman, who never actually donned the Canadian suit. “I was never in it, but I had it in my hands.”

Ligety was recently profiled in L’Equipe, the French news daily; the headline of the story called him “Baby Miller.”

Sullivan, who returned to the World Cup last month after 32 months out of action with knee injuries, finished 50th.

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

What to watch for Sunday
Sunday Val d’Isere hosts the season’s first super combined. A one-day race consisting of a short downhill and slalom, the super combined is a new format (inaugurated last season at Wengen) that condenses the traditional combined event into one day. While the men are racing super combi on Sunday, the women’s World Cup will be wrapping up the season’s annual swing through North America with a slalom at Aspen, Colorado, the last of three races there.

Miller considering X-Box< br>Last year, Miller played a lot of video games in his motorhome, including the Hermann Maier signature World Cup game. This year, he’s not sure what he and his driver/cook Jake Sereno will play.

“We sort of used up all those games,” said the reigning overall World Cup champion. “They don’t come out with games fast enough if you play them with the kind of volume Jake and I have. We go through the games pretty quick…Maybe we’ll go to X-Box, I don’t know.”

Men’s downhill
Val d’Isere, France
Dec. 10, 2005

1. Michael Walchhofer, AUT 2:00.15
2. Fritz Strobl, AUT 2:00.67
3. Johans Grugger, AUT 2:01.10
4. Bruno Kernen, SUI 2:01.23
5. Klaus Kroell, AUT 2:01.25
6. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, NOR 2:01.52
7. Bode Miller, USA 2:01.53
7. Erik Guay, CAN 2:01.53
9. Hermann Maier, AUT 2:01.55
10. Kristian Ghedina, ITA 2:01.58
11. Marco Buechel, LIE 2:01.63
12. Manuel Osborne-Paradis, CAN 2:01.65
12. Juerg Gruenenfelder, SUI 2:01.65
14. Daron Rahlves, USA 2:01.70
15. Yannick Bertrand, FRA 2:01.79
16. Antoine Deneriaz, FRA 2:01.85
17. Finlay Mickel, GBR 2:01.97
18. Ambrosi Hoffmann, SUI 2:02.02
19. Aksel Lund Svindal, NOR 2:02.11
20. Andreas Schifferer, AUT 2:02.12
21. Peter Fill, ITA 2:02.18
22. Kurt Sulzenbacher, ITA 2:02.20
23. Didier Defago, SUI 2:02.21
23. Didier Cuche, SUI 2:02.21
25. Francois Bourque, CAN 2:02.22
26. Andreas Buder, AUT 2:02.25
27. Benjamin Raich, AUT 2:02.31
28. Alessandro Fattori, ITA 2:02.36
29. Patrik Jaerbyn, SWE 2:02.44
30. Silvan Zurbriggen, SUI 2:02.53
Other North Americans:
33. Scott Macartney, USA 2:02.73
35. Steven Nyman, USA 2:02.95
38. Jeff Hume, CAN 2:03.26
40. John Kucera, CAN 2:03.36
42. Justin Johnson, USA 2:03.48
50. Marco Sullivan, USA 2:03.93
59. Ted Ligety, USA 2:04.95

By Hank McKee

Men’s DH, Val d’Isere, Dec. 10, 2005
Skier, skis/boots/bindings 1. Walchhofer, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic 2. Strobl, Salomon/Salomon/Salomon 3. Grugger, Head/Lange/Tyrolia 4. Kernen, Rossignol/Rossignol/Rossignol 5. Kroell, Head/Lange/Tyrolia 6. Aamodt, Dynastar/Lange/Tyrolia 7. Miller, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic 7. Guay, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic 9. Maier, Atomic/Atomic/Atomic 10. Ghedina, Fischer /Lange/Fischer

Men’s Downhill, Val d’Isere, France, Dec. 10, 2005. … It is the eighth race of the men’s 34 race, 4 combined World Cup schedule. … The third of 10 scheduled downhills. … It is the first of two competitions scheduled at Val d’Isere, the other a combined. … It is the 50th Criterium du Premier Neige. … Winning margin is over half a second (.52). … Only the podium skiers are within the same second. … The top 20 are within two seconds.

It is the seventh career win for Michael Walchhofer. … His fifth in DH. … It is his first win of the season. … It is his first win at Val d’Isere, where he has twice finished third (’01 & ’04). … … He is 30 from Altenmarkt, married. … He is the defending World Cup DH champion.

It is the 28th career podium for Fritz Strobl. … His second of the season, having won the Nov. 26 DH at Lake Louise. … It is his third podium at Val d’Isere, but the first since 2000. … He won at Val d’Isere Dec. 15, 1996. … He is 33 from Steinfeld.

It is the sixth career podium for Johan Grugger. … His second of the season after a third at Beaver Creek DH Dec. 2. … His only other result at Val d’Isere is 22nd a year and a day ago. … He is three days shy of his 24th birthday. … It is the third podium sweep of the season for the Austrians. … The first for the Austrian men.

It is the seventh career top 10 for Bode Miller at Val d’Isere. … He was fourth in the DH last season and has won two GS’s at the site. … It is the seventh career top 7 for Erik Guay. … Three of them this season. … It is his best result at Val d’Isere among three scoring finishes. … Fourteenth is the fourth best result in 12 completed races at Val d’Isere for Daron Rahlves. … His best at the site is seventh, DH, Dec. 11, 2004. …. It is the 14th career World Cup scoring result for Francois Bourque. … His first at Val d’Isere.

Bode Miller moves into the World Cup overall standings lead 318-307 over Aksel Svindal (finished 19th in race). … Daron Rahlves is third at 303. … Strobl is the downhill standings leader at 230 over Walchhofer at 162. … Kjetil Aamodt is third on the DH list at 152. … Bode Miller is sixth at 125 and Rahlves seventh at 118.

Every men’s DH this season has had at least four different brands of skis among the top five finishers.

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