SESTRIERE, Italy March 10, 2004 (USST) - Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA), the winningest American man in World Cup downhill annals, opened World Cup Finals on the 2006 Olympic downhill course Wednesday by collecting his sixth DH victory and clinching second place in the discipline standings again. Hermann Maier of Austria and Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) both finished out of the points, which go to only the top 15 finishers at Finals, increasing the drama in their duel for the overall title.
The last four races of the alpine season are being staged in Sestriere, the 1987 FIS World Alpine Championships host and the alpine site for the 2006 Olympics. Miller heads into the last GS with a 61-point margin over Finn Kalle Palander.
Rahlves, who had won the Chevy Truck Birds of Prey downhill at Beaver Creek, Colo., earlier this season and two super Gs, nailed the bottom of the 3.3K Kandahar speed run to finish in 1:51.88. Second place went to Tuesday's training run leader, Austria's Olympic champion, Fritz Strobl (1:51.98), with Stephan Eberharter of Austria - who has won the last two overall World Cup championships and three straight World Cup DH titles, in third place (1:52.01).
Rahlves liked what he saw: "...a good hill for me"
"I'm super stoked. This is the way I wanted to end the season," said Rahlves, a Green Mountain Valley School (VT) grad who won Sunday's super G in Kvitfjell, Norway. After Tuesday's lone training run, where he was 10th behind Strobl, someone said it looked as though the hill would be a problem for him. "I told him I thought it was a good hill for me," Rahlves said with a smile.
"Tell me I can't do something," he said, "and I'll do it. That just added to the fire for today."
Maier, looking to pad his 67-point lead over Miller in the overall standings, finished 18th and Miller was 22nd. Maier has clinched the super G title and the men race super G Thursday; then the drama swings on the weekend to Miller's strength in technical events - giant slalom Saturday and slalom Sunday. Maier and Eberharter normally don't race slalom. "You couldn't have scripted it any better," said Miller, who has claimed for weeks the overall points scrap would go down to the final race.
Maier retains the overall points lead at 1,165 but Eberharter moved back past Miller into second, just 22 points behind (1,143) while Miller is third (1,098), Austrian Benjamin Raich fourth (1,063) and Rahlves fifth (928). Eberharter took his third DH title with 831 points; for the second year in a row, Rahlves was No. 2 at 627.
"Tuesday in training I was tentative, a little nervous. Normally I don't watch, but I saw the world junior champion from Austria go off that first jump all arms and legs. It's tough...bumpy," Rahlves said. He took it cautiously at the top of the course, picked up speed through the middle and won with precise turns and speed on the bottom.
Tough section? "It's what I thrive on"
"I found the right line and skied the right way to take it," Rahlves said. "(Tuesday) I was third and second in some sections, so I knew I could do well. This (last) section, with big turns, is super fast; it's what I thrive on."
He was clean off the top "but I didn't feel fast, so I started letting it go," he explained. "I got a little behind but when I get behind, it sometimes makes me work. ...When it gets faster, I want to keep looking for speed. Some guys want to back off but you can't win by backing off."
Weary after three months on the road, including being sick for three weeks after winning the super G in Kitzbuehel, Rahlves took a break after St. Anton, Austria, in mid-February. He returned to the Lake Tahoe region to be with his wife Michelle, relax and see his friends. "I wanted to stay home. I didn't want to come back. There's nothing like being home, but I figured, 'Okay, I've got to get back on the road and finish the World Cup strong.'"
At the 1997 Worrlds in Sestriere, he recalled, he skied off-course at the sixth gate because the blind rolls on the course make it an extra-tricky run. The key to doing well Thursday in super G, where he's second to Maier going into the final SG, will be a good inspection "and skiing smart."
Coach: "He's such a race horse"
"He nailed the bottom again - that's been his forte these last few races," men's speed Head Coach John McBride said. "I think he skied a touch conservatively on the top, and that's a section I'd expect that, but then he did what he needed to do. He didn't ski well up there (Tuesday) and 'D' might not have had the same level of confidence in that section, but then he let go.
"He's such a race horse," McBride said, laughing as he added, "I think these last couple of races (fourth Saturday in downhill, first Sunday and in Sestriere) have changed his view and he's glad he came back. He wanted to finish strong and he's doing exactly that."
Fog, which embraced the top of the course during inspection and warm-up, blew off as the race got started with temperatures in the teens, the coach said. "It was a good track, a well-prepared track."
Eberharter's podium and no points for Maier or Miller tightened the race for the overall. Maier is after his fourth overall championship; Eberharter, who has talked of retiring after this season, is seeking his third overall in a row; Miller is chasing his first overall, his first GS crown.