February 19, 2005
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP by Erica Bulman)--Michael Walchhofer will be a tough man to beat for the World Cup downhill title.
Walchhofer's second consecutive downhill victory put even more space between him and newly crowned world champion Bode Miller, Johann Grugger and Daron Rahlves.
``I am going to fight Bode Miller for the downhill title,'' Walchhofer said. ``I remember seeing Stephan Eberharter ski for three years in a league almost of his own and winning the title three years in a row.
``I would be very proud if could win the downhill globe and take over from Eberharter, because it would mean I am in the same league.''
The 29-year-old Austrian has finished on the podium in every downhill this season except the wind-skewed race in Val Gardena, Italy, where he was 20th. He continued that trend Friday, delivering a near-perfect run down the soft Kandahar course, then mastering the final FIS-Schneise turn to win in 1 minute, 57.79 seconds.
The win padded Walchhofer's lead atop the World Cup downhill standings, where he sits with 531 points. Miller is second, 93 points behind, while Grugger is third at 371 and Rahlves is fourth with 309.
Only three downhill races remain this season.
Miller is Walchhofer's biggest threat. The 27-year-old American won the season's opening two downhills and finished third the last two races. In addition, he snatched the downhill title from Walchhofer at the world championships in Bormio two weeks ago after also winning the super-G gold medal.
Rahlves had widely been expected to take the downhill title this season after finishing second to Eberharter the last two seasons. But a bad crash in a giant slalom in Adelboden put a dent in his campaign. He is 222 points behind and will have to win or finish second in all three remaining races and hope those ahead of him in the standings do very poorly.
``Anything is possible,'' Rahlves said. ``After Adelboden, I had to miss the downhill in Wengen, and Walchhofer won there.
``It's tough to play catch-up. Walchhofer is hot, he's got momentum going, he's consistent. He's pretty much got it in the bag, I think.''
Walchhofer was even able to shake off a long, troublesome trend of crashing out on the final turn here. He had crashed four consecutive years on the tricky FIS-Schneise, then last season lost a healthy advantage after skidding onto his backside in the turn, finishing back in 16th position.
``It was becoming unbearable for me,'' Walchhofer said. ``I vowed if I failed again this year on that turn, I would rename my Hotel Zauchensee Zentral the hotel FIS-Schneise.
``I think now that I've successfully made it and I won, the turn on the course should be renamed the Walchhofer curve.''
Walchhofer was in front of Hermann Maier, the surprise winner of the giant slalom in Bormio, by a stunning .99 seconds. Miller had led at the first two intervals, but lost time and speed after going wide on a gate coming out of the bothersome FIS-Schneise turn and settled for third in 1:58.92.
The victory saved face for Austria's men, who with Eberharter retired failed to capture any of the speed titles at the recent world championships. Walchhofer finished third in the world championship downhill behind Miller and his teammate, runner-up Rahlves.
The Austrian also took silver behind Miller in the super-G in Bormio, while Benjamin Raich of Austria, the American's toughest rival in the chase for the overall crown, was a surprising third.
Miller regained an advantage of more than 100 points over Raich in the race for the overall title. Miller leads with 1,153 points, 131 more than Raich, a technical specialist who finished a solid 11th for his best career result in the downhill.
``I am now going to race all the races that remain this season to try and beat Bode for the overall title,'' Raich said.
Copyright © 2005 The Associatedd Press