Miller, Cuche to compete in WCup despite injuries
VAL GARDENA, Italy – Bode Miller and Didier Cuche are battling injuries entering this weekend’s speed races, while Michael Walchhofer is feeling ready to add to his collection of seven podium finishes on the Saslong course.
Miller sprained his ankle during a volleyball game with teammates last weekend and is still regaining his fitness after skipping summer training, while Cuche broke his rib in a training fall last week.
Still, Cuche led Thursday’s final training session with the help of some injected painkillers.
“Today it worked better than yesterday,” Cuche said of the injection, adding that pushing off at the start is still “really painful.”
A super-G is scheduled for Friday, followed by the featured downhill Saturday.
Cuche won a super-G on the Saslong two years ago and leads the downhill standings, having won this season’s opening downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, and finishing second to Swiss teammate Carlo Janka two weeks ago in Beaver Creek, Colo.
The swelling around Miller’s ankle has gone down enough for the American to step into his ski boot.
“It’s healing – slowly,” Miller said. “It’s tight and it hurts but once it’s in the boot there’s no damage to the ligament. In a few positions it feels bad, but aside from that, it feels good.”
Miller won the super-G here three years ago and registered two runner-up finishes – one in super-G and one in downhill to Walchhofer last year. The New Hampshire native is winless since taking a downhill in Kvitfjell, Norway, at the end of the 2007-08 season en route to his second overall World Cup title.
Despite the ankle problem and lack of fitness, Miller likes his chances because the course isn’t too physically demanding.
“Yeah, it’s not super-technical. It’s pretty smooth, the snow is in good condition so that’s a little bit less of a beating on it,” he said. “It’s mostly a ski race and if your skis are quick here you do well. The gliders always do well.”
Still, Walchhofer remains the man to beat.
The Austrian led Wednesday’s opening training session and is aiming for his third consecutive downhill victory on the Saslong.
“He’s been the most consistently fast here,” Miller said. “He’s the strongest glider, probably, and the Atomics (skis) have a pretty good record here.”
Cuche called Val Gardena Walchhofer’s “living room.”
“He will be top three for sure,” Cuche said of his rival.
The last skier besides Walchhofer to win the downhill here was Steven Nyman of Sundance, Utah, in 2006.
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Nyman has a similar build to Walchhofer, and enjoys watching the Austrian.
“He’s just solid and clean on his boards,” Nyman said, rejecting the criticism of Walchhofer for his unconventional style.
“If you look at what his feet are doing, he’s a really good skier. He’s clean and he’s strong and that’s really all you have to do,” Nyman said.
Last season, a record five Americans finished in the top 10 of the downhill here. Speed captain Marco Sullivan is looking for a repeat.
“All the veterans on the team have done well here, and we had some young guys popping in there last year,” Sullivan said. “Coming off Val d’Isere, and actually the whole first part of the season, we haven’t had any great success. So we’re looking forward to catching the vibe here. Everyone is feeling good and healthy and there’s really nothing that should hold us back.”
The key points of the Saslong come midway down with a series of jumps known as the camel bumps, followed immediately by the twisty and technical section. While far from an exact match, the course has similarities to the track that will be used for the Vancouver Olympics in February.
“It looks like it moves and winds a lot like this,” Nyman said. “There’s terrain and I’m pretty good at terrain and gliding. I’m a bigger guy and I have long legs, so I can move with that.”
Local favorite Werner Heel of Italy will look to repeat his super-G victory here a year ago.
“It’s not only the course that I like, it’s the mountains, the people, the food,” said Heel, who is from nearby Merano.
Overall World Cup leader Benjamin Raich and second-place Carlo Janka will race the super-G, then skip the downhill.
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