Walchhofer puts down fastest training time in Lenzerheide

15 March 2011 13:03

LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland – Michael Walchhofer really wants to collect one last crystal globe before he retires. To show that he has what it takes, the Austrian was the fastest racer down the World Cup final downhill course in training on Tuesday morning.

Walchhofer, who added another ornament to his decorated career during his last season on the World Cup with his big downhill victory in Kvitfjell last weekend, charged down the short, steep course in Lenzerheide in 1 minute, 23.21 seconds. His teammate, Klaus Kroell, who also had a great weekend in Norway, taking second place in one downhill and the super G, was 0.21 seconds behind Walchhofer in the training run Tuesday and world super G champion Christof Innerhofer put down the third fastest time, 0.26 seconds back.

Spring arrived in the Swiss Alps on Tuesday, making for slightly soft conditions, particularly on the bottom half of the course, and although he said he could do better on the flatter parts of the course, Walchhofer was not slowed.

“It’s a training run, but I tried to ski fast from the beginning,” he said. “I missed the gliding part – it’s very different snow from the snow in Kvitfjell, but I think I know what to do if it is the same tomorrow.”

The men’s downhill race begins at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday – almost the same time as Tuesday’s training – and snow conditions are expected to be similar. The men’s downhill will be one of the most exciting races this week at Lenzerheide, because Walchhofer and Didier Cuche are very close in the standings and both want the globe. Walchhofer, who is retiring after this season, won the downhill globes in 2009, 2006 and 2005. He leads Cuche in the current standings with 474 points to Cuche’s 460. Cuche won the downhill globe last year and also in 2007 and 2008, so the win would mean the fourth crystal in the discipline for either athlete. But for the Austrian, it will be the last chance.

“For sure [this globe] is very important because it’s the fourth one, but for the moment it’s so close and very exciting, this race tomorrow for me, especially with Didier Cuche, he’s a racer who loves to catch these globes,” Walchhofer said after the training run Tuesday. “We both have good chances.”

With 395 points, Kroell is third in the downhill standings, but because Wednesday’s race is the last and there are only 100 points to the winner, both Walchhofer and Cuche would have to do very badly for Kroell to claim the globe, but he felt he put down almost a flawless training run and is hoping for harder snow for race day.

“The course was good, the slope was very good, nice conditions,” Kroell said. “I make no mistakes, so I’m looking for speed on the difficult sections. The snow is beginning to get softer. We hope for a cold night and a good race. But it will be the same for everybody.”

There were 24 racers on the men’s start list in training on Tuesday, but Ivica Kostelic, who has already earned enough points to seal the World Cup overall globe, did not do training and will thus not start in Wednesday’s race.

France’s Adrien Theaux was the fourth fastest in training, 1.44 seconds off the lead time, followed by Cuche, who said he missed a gate, and was fifth, 1.46 seconds back. Swiss teammate Beat Feuz was sixth, 1.88 seconds back, then came Austria’s Joachim Puchner in seventh, 2.20 seconds back, Carlo Janka eighth, 2.45 seconds back, Peter Fill in ninth, 2.48 seconds back and Aksel Lund Svindal and Andrej Sporn tied for 10th, 2.52 seconds back.

Click here for full results of Tuesday’s men’s downhill training.

By Shauna Farnell/farnell@fisski.com