Alpine team continues World Cup tour |

Alpine team continues World Cup tour

Julia Mancuso finished 12th in the Giant Slalom on Saturday. Photo courtesy USSA copyright 2005

ASPEN, Colo. – The Colorado magic that the U.S. alpine men found during the VISA Birds of Prey races was gone when the women arrived for the Sirius Satellite Radio Aspen Winternational.

In Beaver Creek, the men took two victories – Daron Rahlves in downhill (his 10th overall) and Bode Miller grabbing his 20th victory, this one in giant slalom – plus three other podiums (Miller second to Rahlves in the dramatic DH, Rahlves runner-up in the even-more-dramatic GS and Parkite Ted Ligety, finishing third in slalom). Five top-threes in 12 opportunities.

In Aspen this past weekend, Kirsten Clark overcame a tricky super-G Friday to finish fifth – her best showing since she ravaged her knees in a racing crash Jan. 30, 2004 in Austria – and Lindsey Kildow finished seventh. And that was it for the Yanks in terms of top-10 results in this ex-silver mining town where USSA president and CEO Bill Marolt grew up.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the men kept up their tussle with Austria. Saturday in a downhill at Val d’Isere, France, marked the 50th anniversary of its Criterium de la Premiere Neige (Criterium of the First Snow). World Cup DH champ Michael Walchhofer of Austria won while Miller reclaimed the World Cup points lead, finishing in a tie for seventh place; Sunday, Miller reached the podium in super-combined (one run of DH, one run of SL on abbreviated courses), finishing third behind Walchhofer after Swiss racer Didier Defago was disqualified for illegal pressure plates under the bindings on his skis (if the plates are too high, the skier can exert too much leverage in turns; Defago’s were a whisker too high, according to multiple re-checks).

Monday night, in a slalom at Madonna DiCampiglio, Italy’s Giorgio Rocca – who won the season’s first slalom in Beaver Creek – made it 2-for-2, overtaking World Cup SL champ Benni Raich of Austria on the final run. Ligety finished sixth and moved up in the overall slalom points. Miller was leading when he went out at the bottom of his second run.

So, as the men headed to Val Gardena for a downhill Friday and super-G Saturday, and then a GS Sunday in Alta Badia, Miller – with zero SL points – still was first in the points, by 11 over Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal with Rahlves fourth.

In Aspen, the women showed some spark Friday in SG, but they never got things going in the technical events on the weekend. Nobody had any answers – SL/GS Head Coach Trevor Wagner said they were mostly young and had the talent "to own the hill … some day," but not this time.

A look-back at the ladies’ races:

Friday (Super-G) – For the first time in two seasons, or since she won in Sestriere during 2004 World Cup Finals, a Swiss woman won a World Cup race as Nadia Styger conquered Aspen Mountain. Her winning time was one minute, 13.77 seconds with 2003 super-G world champ Michaela Dorfmeister of Austria runner-up in 1:13.87.

Clark, silver medallist behind Dorfmeister in that ’03 Worlds race, was jubilant, attacking the run, nailing the bottom and finishing fifth (1:14.38). "This is huge, a big relief," Clark said, a reference particularly to her September bout with a staph infection after having her left knee cleaned out of scar tissue which had built up following her surgery. "It’s so good to know I can charge and have confidence in my knee.

"You had to charge…and I was charging. I have great memories of my last super-G here [fourth in SG on Nov. 29, 2002]. There’s nothing technical up there – you have to take a tight line, be aerodynamic and execute a few key turns…

"I’m excited with the way I skied. …My [left] knee feels good, no problem, and it’s good I’m able to charge and have confidence in it, that I can trust the knee…"

Head Coach Patrick Riml agreed. "You could see by her smile how relieved ‘Clarky’ was with her skiing. She’s the leader and the other girls feed off her, and when she’s skiing like she can ski, it’s a very different atmosphere."

Kildow made mistakes "but for her to make mistakes and be seventh is still a good result," he said. In addition, Libby Ludlow, 10th in Lake Louise, was 20th in Aspen while Bryna McCarty tied for 24th.

Saturday (giant slalom) – Spaniard Maria Jose Rienda Contreras won her third GS in the last four, including the final two last season. Her winning two-run time was 1:57.17 with defending World Cup champion Anja Paerson of Sweden second (1:57.51). Julia Mancuso, the Park City Winter Sports School grad who was GS bronze medallist at 2005 Worlds, had the best U.S. result, 12th in 1:59.22, while Kristina Koznick was 24th.

Sunday (slalom) – Paerson for the win and her patented belly-flop in the finish, although she went only about 2-1/2 feet and, smiling, conceded later a new vest was more abrasive and limited her slide. She overtook a sleep-skiing Janica Kostelic of Croatia – who led by more than a second after the first run – to win by three-hundredths of a second in 1:36.01.

Top American was Koznick, finishing 14th in what probably was her final race in the USA since she said she’s 99.9 percent sure she’ll pull it over after her third Olympics. Mancuso, still adjusting to new boots after leaving her old ones in Lake Louise – and folks up there somehow couldn’t get ’em FedEx’d to her in five days, was 19th with Kildow 30th.

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