Val d’Isere Preview: The Course and the American CompetitorsThe alpine World Cup has swung back to Europe, with women going to Austria and men in France for a downhill and giant slalom at Val d’Isere on Saturday and Sunday.
Hermann Maier of Austria won the first and only training run for Saturday’s men’s downhill today, with Bode Miller getting technical disqualified and Bryon Friedman sitting out with an injury.
A new track at Val d’Isere
Val d’Isere is the home of Jean-Claude Killy, the 2009 world championships and was the venue for some of the skiing events in the 1992 Winter Olympics in nearby Albertville, France.
Friday’s training run was the first and only, the scheduled training run for Thursday having been cancelled due to the rain and high temperatures on Wednesday night. Hermann Maier won the run by a few hundredths over Didier Cuche of Switzerland, but because there is just this one training run before the race, the seeding for the downhill is determined not by the training run but by the World Cup Start List, which essentially reflects the athletes’ performance in downhills in the last 365 days. The top 30 skiers on that list will start in reverse order. In Saturday’s race, Daron Rahlves will start 29th, and Bode Miller starts 23rd.
Several portions of the classic course have been adjusted for enhanced flow and safety. Coming into what is known as “the Compression” near the bottom of the course, athletes come into a jump at a different angle than before. “It’s primarily for safety reasons,” said Jean-Claude Fritsch, the head of the organizing committee. “We cut down 17 trees. They used to come in one way and have to turn in mid-air, and now they come in at a different direction… It is safer and more fluid.” The changes got generally positive reviews from the athletes after the training run.
“There’s a few significant changes, in my opinion for the better,” said Bode Miller, who was in second at the last interval. “More turns. There’s not quite as much speed coming into the Compression, and therefore not as much coming out. The rest of it’s pretty much the same. The speeds are up pretty high, which is fun. It’ll be a great race.”
Miller was in second at the last interval in today’s training run, but stood up near the finish to disguise his time from curious competitors and fans. He was later disqualified on a technicality (see below).
Daron Rahlves, the winningest downhiller in American history finished 17th in the training run. “I like the changes they made,” said Rahlves. “There are a few more turns. The jumps are big. They were trying to ice me up in the start. Some guy packed it in, but that just made me focus. I kind of like that intensity factor. It was a fun time skiing down.”
Conspicuously absent from the American team today was Bryon Friedman, who was taken to a French hospital on Thursday with a leg infection caused by wounds he incurred two weeks ago. Friedman damaged both of his shins in a training run crash at Lake Louise two weeks ago, but was recovered enough to race through the pain at last week at Beaver Creek, where he managed a career-best seventh in the dramatic downhill.
“The left shin was worse than the right,” said Friedman, reached via cell-phone at his bed in the infectious disease unit of the Grenoble hospital. “But there was a little cut a few inches above the cuff on my right leg.” Friedman was playing soccer with his teammates on Tuesday, after arriving in Val d’Isere, when he collided with a coach and re-opened the wound. “The next night my heart was racing and the wound was really hot, and the doctor said it was infected.”
Friedman says he hopes to be back in action next weekend for the super G and downhill at Val Gardena. “The doctor here says no, but it’s getting better, and that’s a good hill for me, so if it’s good enough, I’ll shove it in a boot and go.”
Miller on DQ list after training run because of technicality
Bode Miller, the leader of the World Cup, was disqualified from the training run for wearing his giant slalom suit, rather than his downhill suit. The heavily-padded giant slalom suits are not air-permeable enough for legal use in World Cups, but Miller wore it, his coaches said, because he likes to be warm and likes to hit the gates.
Miller likes to take the direct line when he can, as he did in the Beaver Creek super G. There he knew he had dumped time with a mistake above the flats, so he skied the bottom of the course with a tight line, flattening gates and reminding fans of his giant slalom technique from 2002. “The bottom of that course salvaged my day,” recalled Miller. “I won the bottom split, as I suspected I would. But the skiing was really fun. The skiing was really fun. I skied the way I used to a few years ago. Really direct. It’s not the fastest way I can ski, but it’s really fun.”
Miller won the giant slalom at Val d’Isere in 2001. It was his first World Cup victory. He has won 16 since then.
This week, the women’s races consist of a super G and a slalom at Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, near Salzburg.