Skiers brace for season's toughest test in Bormio
BORMIO, Italy -- The days are short. The course is long, dark, bumpy and icy.
It's time for the annual World Cup downhill on Bormio's leg-jarring Stelvio course -- usually the most physically demanding test skiers face all season.
It's an intimidating race, too, being one of the rare tracks where skiers can peer straight down and see the finish from the start gate.
"It's not as bad as I (thought)," said Kjetil Jansrud, who sits second in the downhill standings, 86 points behind Norwegian teammate Aksel Lund Svindal, but is racing at Bormio for the first time.
"It's for sure tough, but as a ski racer you can always get down the hill. The problem is being fast at the same time," Jansrud added. "I tried attacking a little more and I'm still two seconds behind (Klaus) Kroell. I guess if you want to ski like Kroell does today, it's a really tough course."
Austrian veteran Kroell led Friday's final training session ahead of Saturday's race. Italians Christof Innerhofer, the 2008 winner, and Dominik Paris, were second and third -- matching their results from Thursday's opening training.
Bode Miller, the American standout who has three career victories on the Stelvio, still hasn't started his season as he recovers from left knee surgery.
Without Miller, the U.S. team is led by Steven Nyman, who marked his return from several injury-hit seasons with a surprise victory two weeks ago in the downhill in Val Gardena.
"I love this hill," Nyman said. "It's endurance, which suits my style, and it's a lot of tactics. It's not really super technical. There's a lot of ice and bumps on the lower half and you really got to be over your skis and charging there, but other than that it's not overly technical. It's more an endurance race and about what you can pull out of the tank down at the bottom."
The other American skier to look out for is Travis Ganong, who finished 10th in Gardena for his best career result and scored the first downhill points on the Stelvio two years ago during his rookie season.
"Everyone always dreads this place and says how it's long, dark, bumpy and icy. It is all those things, but I like it," Ganong said after placing 12th in training. "I like turning, which is really weird for a downhiller. This hill, top to bottom, is just a lot of long, really fun turns, and you have to link them together and that's how you go fast."
Marco Sullivan, the American who finished third earlier this season in Lake Louise, Alberta, is skipping this race. He had a season-ending concussion here two years ago.
Another American, Andrew Weibrecht, sat out training Friday because of sickness.
While the weather constantly changed during training Friday, clear and colder conditions are expected for Saturday, which could make the bumps even harder to handle.
Kroell clocked 1 minute, 56.13 seconds on a course that was shortened by about 5 seconds because of weather worries. Innerhofer was 0.09 behind and Paris was 0.46 back.
Adrien Theaux of France, after leading Thursday, posted fast split times on top. He then cruised down the rest of the way and placed last Friday, 8.94 seconds back in 54th place.
Didier Defago of Switzerland, the Olympic downhill gold medalist and defending champion in this race, was 10th, improving only slightly on his 11th position from the day before.
A couple of top contenders sat out training.
Svindal, who is also the overall World Cup leader, stayed in his hotel with a sore throat, while downhill world champion Erik Guay of Canada rested with a fever.
Svindal celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday.
"30 years old and maybe a bit smarter?.. Feeling a sore throat so I'm skipping today's Bormio training," he Tweeted.
Also, the 2009-10 overall winner Carlo Janka is skipping this event to train and address his poor form of late.
Kroell finished second here in 2008 and was third last year. He's under pressure to become the first Austrian winner of a speed race this season.
"It's always tough on this course, but when you can look at the board and see your name on top, it inspires you," he said. "(The pressure is) not only from Austria. I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself."
Innerhofer already won a downhill last month in Beaver Creek, Colo., and leads a strong challenge for the home team.
"I've always felt good here," Innerhofer said. "It's a course I like, with one curve leading into another, and there are always lots of my fans here."
Werner Heel, another Italian, was fourth in the final training session.
With Matteo Marsaglia having won a super-G in Beaver Creek, the Italian team has improved gliding during training this season.
"We were already some of the best technical skiers, but now with the added gliding preparation it's paying off," Paris said.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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