Rahlves grabs eighth victory in Bormio
Two down, two to go for Daron Rahlves as the Lake Tahoe alpine racer moves through what might be his final season of World Cup racing.
He came into the season with four goals, he said: he wanted to win the downhills at the VISA Birds of Prey races at Beaver Creek, Colo., the DH in Bormio, Italy (which he won in December 2002 and where he was silver medallist last season during the World Championships), then the Super Bowl of alpine racing, the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria (where he’d won the 2003 downhill and the 2004 super-G)…and then the biggie, the Olympic downhill in Sestriere, Italy (where he’d taken a World Cup DH two years ago).
He won Dec. 2 in Beaver Creek – with teammate Bode Miller, who beat him there a year ago and who edged him at Worlds for the downhill title – in second place.
Thursday, Rahlves made it 2-for-2 when he stormed down the Stelvio course to finish in 1 minute, 57.68 seconds. It was his eighth World Cup downhill victory, the 11th overall of his career (the most successful U.S. male downhiller, he’s also got three super-G wins)…and it moved him into first place in the overall World Cup points. He’s got 489 points after 16 races; Miller is No. 2 at 471.
"Yeah, two to go," he said via cell phone while munching on some lunch while he waited for the Bormio, Italy traffic to vanish before he headed for the airport and his flight home to wife Michelle. He’ll return to Europe next week — with his wife and their husky, Chevy — for the rest of the winter; next race: Jan. 7, the annual giant slalom in Adelboden, Switzerland.
"That’s a big one. I have the ability to be really fast on that hill," he said. A year ago, he had a highlight reel crash — careening backwards through the air off a bump during his second run — on the course. It was one race, although he didn’t finish, where he became more convinced than ever that he could be a contender in GS; he went on to take the GS bronze medal at Worlds and was second to Miller (with Parkite Erik Schlopy fourth despite a broken hand) at Beaver Creek earlier this month.
"I think it’s the most important GS of the year, it’s like the Kitzbuehel of any GS hill. I’m looking to coming back charged and ready to go," Rahlves said.
Rahlves stayed in Europe during Christmas, so he was possibly more amped than usual to do well in Bormio, which is one of the major DHs on the tour.
"This is one of the classics," DH/SG Head Coach John McBride said, "and ‘D’ really gets up for the biggies like this one. He was ready from the moment he got to town. He came in like the new sheriff, led both the training runs and then put it down during the race. Pretty emphatic…but that’s his passion, he loves big challenges – and they bring out the best in him."
"I figure if I’m spending Christmas over here," Rahlves explained, "I wanted to make good use of every minute — and Michelle was telling me the same thing, so every day I was pushing it."
In the end, one irony was that he overtook Austrian Fritz Strobl, the current World Cup DH leader, for the win by .32. When he won three years ago, the guy in second place? Fritz Strobl.
"He usually comes out and wins the first run big," Rahlves said, "and when I beat him [Tuesday in training], I thought that was a good sign for me…
"Bormio is one of those places where it’s nice to walk away on this hill after having a great run. It could be the last time, so that means it was a little more pressure, a little more demanding…"
Miller finished ninth with former Park City Ski Team racer Steve Nyman continuing his march toward an Olympic spot as he finished 26th, which rated kudos from McBride – "Coming in here for the first time and placing 26th is outstanding." JJ Johnson, another Park City racer, was 10th at the last split before he caught an edge and crashed.
On the women’s tour, Kristina Koznick – who also is considering retirement in the spring – led six U.S. skiers into the top 30 Thursday, finishing fourth in a slalom in Lienz, Austria. Lindsey Kildow was ninth, Sarah Schleper tied for 14th, Julia Mancuso was 16th, Lauren Ross 24th and Resi Stiegler tied for 27th.
The previous day wasn’t as nice for the Americans – Kildow was 24th in a giant slalom with Koznick the only other U.S. skier in the points as she finished 25th.
The women race next Thursday under the lights in Zagreb, Croatia, and then Jan. 7-8 in Maribor, Slovenia, in their annual GS/slalom doubleheader. The men run GS and slalom Jan. 7-8 in Adelboden, a distinct change from the traditional midweek GS before Wengen and its heralded Lauberhorn downhill.
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