Rahlves wins one for Marco | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rahlves wins one for Marco

Tahoe Daily Tribune Staff Reports

USSA reports

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Daron Rahlves, battling the remnants of a cold but skiing with double motivation on what he described as “a scrapper run,” tore through Birds of Prey and its icy speed run Friday to win his fifth World Cup downhill, the first DH victory by a U.S. man in the U.S. since 1984.

The Chevy Truck Birds of Prey World Cup race was added just 48 hours earlier after the International Ski Federation moved the race from semi-snowless Val d’Isere, France.

“It was one of those runs you pull everything,” Rahlves said. “I hammered as hard as I could.”

Rahlves, whose winning time was 1:39.59, was hit by the cold last week at Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies and has battled it since arriving in Beaver Creek.

However, he said he was skiing with Thursday’s injury to teammate Marco Sullivan, a close friend from the Lake Tahoe area, weighing heavily on his mind.

Recommended Stories For You

“I’ve wanted to win in the United States and I just skied with my heart today and I wanted to do well for Marco,” Rahlves said. “That [the two goals] was a lot of motivation there.”

He spoke with Sullivan, who was at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in nearby Vail, facing knee surgery after a training run crash, but Rahlves didn’t get to see him because of pre-race preparations.

Norway’s Bjarne Solbakken Ð whose best previous World Cup finish had been seventh in last Sunday’s super G – skied early and held onto his lead against everyone but Rahlves, who set sail after Bode Miller Ð running No. 19 – crashed after a ski broke as he tore through a dark transition section with the fastest time to that point. Solbakken and Austrian Stephan Eberharter tied for second at 1:40.28 while Bryon Friedman, skiing 40th, was 23rd for his first World Cup points and Scott Macartney was 32nd.

“It was definitely a good run,” Rahlves said. “I took maximum risks all the way. I still wasn’t feeling like I had all the energy I wanted.

“I’ve been sick Ð it’s been a battle all week to get back, and I wasn’t as close as I wanted, but I love this hill and I told myself, ‘It’s one run and I can make it happen.'”

And the 30-year-old Rahlves did. He was .22 ahead at the first interval, .43 up at the second, .53 ahead by the third interval as he barreled down what he said is one of his favorite courses.

“Conditions were really good. It got a little bumpy, definitely tough Ð I got bumped around through the middle and at the bottom. It was a scrapper run,” he said.

Finishing third in the Birds of Prey DH a year ago Ð the best U.S. men’s finish on the course since it opened at the start of the 1998 Olympic season Ð pumped Rahlves. He was playing a self-driven game of “Can you top this?”

“I’ve wanted this so bad. Last year felt good, finishing in third place, and ever since it’s been all about coming back to Beaver Creek and being top dog. This is a special feeling,” he said. High praise for a race, with its steep pitches and gnarly fall-aways in several spots, from the winner of the 2003 Hahnenkamm Ð ski racing’s centerpiece event – in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Calling the Birds of Prey speed run “one of the rock ‘n’ roll downhills I love Ð great challenge and it brings out the best in me,” he lauded wax technician Willi Wiltz for honing his Atomics. He said it was “great teamwork Ð he got ’em ready, I drove ’em…

“I had good skis at the top, good skis in the middle. I made a couple of little mistakes, but they kept running. In downhill, every second counts.” He said Miller warned him about tough visibility in the shaded transition area where he crashed, but according to Rahlves when he got there, it wasn’t shady at all and he could keep barreling.

Rahlves likened the victory, the first DH triumph by a U.S. man on U.S. soil since Bill Johnson won at Aspen, Colo., after the Sarajevo Olympics in March 1984, to his win in Kitzbuehel. “This is one of the best places to win for me; Austria is for me and there’s the same feeling here. I always thought this was a good downhill for me, and I was excited to come out and have a chance to lay one down.” (He also won the super G gold medal at the 2001 world championships in St. Anton, Austria.)

Coach sensed Rahlves was ready to win

Said U.S. Men’s Head Coach Phil McNichol, “It was real impressive. I guess today we let the other boys know whose house they’re in. We’ll take this one, for sure. It was just gorgeous. I could see in talking to him ‘D’ was ready. He came ready and he skied ready to go. It was great…and Bode was ripping, too. He was heading to the podium, no question.

“He skied the upper part so well, the kind of skiing when Hermann (Maier of Austria, who won his 43rd race last Sunday in Lake Louise, Alberta) won his first couple of years, when he was so powerful and so clean, so far ahead of everyone else. Bode was too aggressive, he cut the line a little too late in that compression and it blew his ski in half Ð but he was sailing,” McNichol said. “And Friedman getting World Cup points, his first, was terrific. He skied well; it’s always good to have another new guy come in and score…and Scotty Mac (Macartney) was close…he’ll get there.”

Miller, who saw Austrian Michael Walchhofer finish fourth and take over his World Cup points lead, said he cut too straight a line in a compression and as he tried to pull up, his ski let go. He crashed but said he would be ready to roll Saturday in the second downhill of the weekend.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is under observation at the clinic and facing surgery for torn ligaments in his right knee. Doctors are continuing tests on the leg, which was injured when he flew off a jump “without direction” during the lone training run Thursday. An earlier training run had to be canceled Wednesday because of a series of mixups in getting all racers’ skis from Lake Louise to Beaver Creek.

One day after a stirring victory, Rahlves couldn’t overcome gusting winds at the start but still tore down Birds of Prey’s icy speed run Saturday to break up an Austrian stranglehold on the top spots, finishing fourth.

“The wind picked up two guys before me,” said Rahlves, who started 29th. “It hit (defending World Cup champion Stephan) Eberharter and (Michael) Walchhofer, too.”

Walchhofer was sixth and Eberharter 12th.

“I got a little unlucky with the conditions,” Rahlves explained. “It started gusting up real strong. Hey, Mother Nature rules.”

He laid down a strong run, he said, and was surprised to see he was only fourth. “I skied well and did some things I wanted to do,” he said.

Hermann Maier earned the 44th victory of his storied career, leading seven Austrians into the top 10. Miller missed a gate while Bryon Friedman of Park City, Utah, scored points for the second day in a row, finishing 24th.

“And Bode? I don’t know. He’s just having some bad luck. It’s just bad luck, but he’ll rebound,” McNichol said.

On Sunday, Bjarne Solbakken of Norway, who came into the weekend with a career-best of seventh place, won his first World Cup race Sunday, taking the super-G concluding the Chevy Truck Birds of Prey weekend.

Rahlves led the U.S. in 12th place while Jake Fiala of Frisco, Colo., earned his best result,finishing 13th with Scott Macartney of Redmond, Wash., 26th.

ESPN will televise coverage on Thursday.

Solbakken, who tied for second behind Rahlves Friday in the opening downhill on the icy, hard Birds of Prey run, was timed in 1:13.05 with Hermann Maier, who won Saturday’s DH, second at 1:13.44. Hans Knauss, second Saturday in the second DH of the weekend, finished third in the super-G (1:13.50).

Light snow fell throughout the race and light fog created some visibility problems, but coaches said it was consistent, so no one gained an advantage.

Rahlves came down in 1:14.17 with Fiala, the first racer on course and frustrated with his results in the two downhills, tore down the steep top section with the fastest time and held on for the best result of his career, taking 13th place in 1:14.23. Macartney, the reigning Nor Am super-G champion but also frustrated in the two DHs, earned his first World Cup points of the season, too, finishing 26th in 1:15.86 despite coming out of the 56th start slot.

Rahlves, who was late getting to the start, said he was pleased to finish the race in one piece. He didn’t learn of the switch to one-minute start intervals from the customary 1:50, he said, and when he did, it was a sprint to make the start on time. “I was changing my clothes on the lift,” he confessed in the finish.

“I was rushing to get to my start. I barely made it,” he said, but a brief stall just before he skied 13th gave him time to make it. “I wasn’t prepared as I normally am, didn’t have time to relax…

“It was a ride where I was happy I made it down and didn’t crash,” Rahlves said. “I was lucky today making it to the finish. It’s tough.”