Walchhofer fastest in World Cup training

Super combined racers get 1st look at full Birds of Prey course

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Dominique Taylor/Vail Daily

Switzerland’s Didier Cuche finished second Thursday in Beaver Creek.

— How predictable.

The leaderboard from Thurs­day’s downhill training listed the fastest skiers in the world: Walchhofer, Cuche, Defago, Svindal and Miller.

Those men now will try to turn in similar performances when they count. The real races begin today at 11 a.m. on the Birds of Prey course with the super combined on Beaver Creek Mountain.

Austrian Michael Walch­hofer, the reigning World Cup downhill champion, was fastest down the 1 1/2 mile-long course Thursday, crossing the finish line in 1 minute, 45.36 seconds. Walchhofer has seen lots of success at Beaver Creek, winning the downhill there in 2007 and placing third in super-G last year.

But he’s looking over his shoulder at Didier Cuche, the Swiss skier who finished second Thursday.

“It’s possible to ski fast if you want to win on Saturday (in downhill),” Walchhofer said. “Didier Cuche is in a really great shape. He had, maybe, a lot of self-confidence after his Lake Louise victory (last weekend).”

Cuche said he was pleased with his training run.

“I think I have to tighten some lines, but I was quite happy about the run today,” Cuche said.

After snowy weather Wednesday, the sun came out Thursday. But temperatures dropped to near zero, forcing some racers to wear tape on their faces to avoid frostbite.

“Maybe today is too cold,” said Swiss racer Didier Defago, who finished third in the training run. “The snow is a little slower. I hope maybe for the next day it will be a little warmer, and the snow can be a little faster.”

Wednesday’s training was shortened by about half because of inclement weather, so Thursday was the first chance for racers to run the full course.

“It was, on the one hand, very fast,” said Marco Buechel, of Liechtenstein, who finished eighth. “On the other hand, the snow was very aggressive. Some of the jumps go really far. Harrier (the second-to-last jump) is going a little bit too far for me.”

Aksel Lund-Svindal, the Norwegian skier who returned triumphantly to Beaver Creek last year following a nasty crash in 2007, finished fourth in the training run. He won the super-G and downhill in Beaver Creek last year and is hoping to continue his dominance this year.

“Great conditions,” Lund-Svindal said. “Respect to the preparations. It’s unbelievable. This crew right here is probably the best crew in the whole world. The snow is fast, but it’s so consistent. They managed to make hard snow all the way from top to bottom. They haven’t spilled water anywhere to make sheets of ice. Ask anyone. All the coaches coming back form the jury inspection, they were like, “It’s unbelievable.”

Bode Miller was the top American, coming in fifth.

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