Racers test downhill course one last time
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – Warmer temperatures and sunny skies made the third day of downhill training Thursday at the Beaver Creek Birds of Prey course the fastest training day of the week.
The fastest run of the day at 1 minute, 45.37 seconds, brought in by Austria’s Hans Grugger, was nearly 3 seconds faster than Wednesday’s fastest run.
With three training runs this year, the most downhill training runs race officials can remember in Birds of Prey history, many skiers have had the opportunity to test new lines, different skis and ultimately different game plans for race day.
Only about half of the field got in three training runs, however, since Wednesday’s runs were canceled after about just more than half of the skiers had finished.
American Travis Ganong said the training runs have given him a chance to put together a good plan for Friday’s race. Ganong finished 30th Thursday with a time of 1:47.43.
“It’s getting faster every day,” Ganong said. “I like it right now.”
The weather forecast for race day calls for cloudy skies, a 50 percent chance of snow with 1-2 inches of accumulation possible and a high of 40 degrees.
American Bode Miller said Thursday’s training run was the first of the three training runs that hasn’t been windy. Miller said it was hard to gather information from the course on Days 1 and 2 because of the wind.
Miller finished fourth Thursday with a time of 1:45.60.
“It’s just misinformation when it’s windy. It’s not like different information, it’s just wrong,” Miller said. “We have some information, but there’s no comparison to what you get on a calm, race prep day.”
The men on the U.S. Ski Team have had little-to-no downhill training up until the Lake Louise (Alberta) World Cup race in Alberta last week. Andrew Weibrecht said he had just two days of downhill training in New Zealand, and Miller said he got his first day of training at Lake Louise last week.
Miller isn’t so sure the lack of offseason training is a bad thing, though.
“If you train a bunch of speed in the summer, it’s so different, because your intensity is never as high, you can sometimes form bad habits,” Miller said. “If you have experience, especially in my case – I’ve raced so many hundreds of World Cup downhill training runs and races – it makes sense for me to wait and ski the training runs and approach them that way.”
Switzerland’s Didier Cuche, who has come in with two-top 10 finishes out of three training runs, predicts a tight race Friday. He said it’s tough to keep the perfect line in the top section because of so many turns and rolls.
“As soon as you make a little mistake, you have to improvise,” Cuche said.
Cuche performed nearly 4 seconds faster in Thursday’s training run than in Wednesday’s run.
“There’s a lot of good skiers now,” Cuche said. “If everybody brings his best, it’s going to be really tight and a big spectacle tomorrow.”
American Marco Sullivan said the course is in great condition and everyone is charging. He said everyone is going for the win so racers have to take all the risks they can on race day.
“The training is just to kind of dial in your line, make sure you know exactly where you’re going, get your equipment dialed in, and tomorrow is where you make your money,” Sullivan said.
The course is unique on the World Cup circuit, Sullivan said, because there’s no other course that starts off so mellow and then gets so aggressive right away.
Sullivan finished 41st Thursday, with a time of 1:48.31.
“If you can come over the brink and just have your game face on and dive into it and just try and gain as much speed as possible, that’s where it’s at,” Sullivan said. “So you just have to be super fired up coming out of the start and it’s game on, you know, this course doesn’t let up on you.”
While training is just training and anything can happen on race day, five skiers have made the top ten in all three training runs – Grugger, Klaus Kroell, Michael Walchhofer, Aksel Lund Svindal and Adrien Theaux.
Switzerland’s Carlo Janka, who won all three races at Birds of Prey last year, hasn’t cracked the top ten this week in training, but he said he’s not worried.
He said Thursday’s run wasn’t perfect, but he has time to think about changing his line for race day. He doesn’t count Wednesday’s training run because the weather made the run so poor for everyone.
Weibrecht, who was disappointed with his training run Thursday, coming in last at 71st with a time of 1:56.75, said the skiers have had to adjust to the changes and just try to get into the right frame of mind in time for race day. He said he thinks he can get it together and give it his best shot today.
Sullivan, like Cuche, expects the race to end up close as always. He said the race is won and lost on the top pitch, though, so it’s all about who can get through that section of the course without any mistakes.
Miller said he’s never all that confident going into downhill races on the World Cup circuit. He knows he has the speed to win, but execution is what it comes down to, he said.
“I’m notorious for having problems with [execution],” Miller said.
Miller said he struggled with execution at Lake Louise, but if he can execute his plan he can win.
“We’ll see,” Miller said.
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