VAL GARDENA, Italy -- Erik Guay has a love-hate relationship
with the Saslong downhill course.
In 2003, the Canadian blew his knee out here. Two years later,
he returned and finished second in super-G and third in downhill.
Last year, his younger brother, Stefan, tore apart his knee in a
training crash at the resort in the Italian Dolomites.
On Thursday, Guay posted the fastest time in the final downhill
training session, finishing significantly ahead of the other race
favorites -- Didier Cuche, Michael Walchhofer and Bode Miller.
"Some years are good here, some bad," Guay said. "Hopefully
this year will be one of those good years."
Organizers made a few key changes to the course during the
summer, adding a jump before the finish and widening the course in
some areas to allow for more turns in super-G.
A super-G is scheduled for Friday, followed by the traditional
downhill race Saturday.
"The places where me and my brother blew our knees is maybe 100
meters apart," Guay said. "When I hurt my knee and came back here
it was like I had something to prove. Hopefully it will be the same
for [Stefan]. I love racing here. I love the bumps and jumps. If
you're not having fun here, you're not a real downhiller."
Stefan Guay only started training again on snow two weeks ago.
Walchhofer led the opening training session Wednesday, has five
career podiums on this course and won the season's previous
downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo.
Still, Walchhofer is picking Guay.
"He had a great run today and is the big favorite for me," the
6-foot-4 Austrian said.
Guay likes Walchhofer.
"Yesterday he showed everyone that he can win, 1.3 seconds
ahead is a pretty big lead," Guay said. "And he's a veteran. He
doesn't choke on race days. He's able to put it down day in and day out.
"That's a great compliment from him. But there are a lot of
great racers out here so we'll just have to wait for Saturday and
see," he said.
Cuche, last season's World Cup downhill champion, and Miller,
who won the super-G in Val Gardena a year ago, are other top
Miller is still seeking his first victory since breaking away
from the U.S. Ski Team for this season.
The Saslong course is the bumpiest on the World Cup tour. Several skiers missed gates in training Thursday, especially the
one immediately before the tricky Ciaslat section.
"The snow changed quite a bit. It got cold last night and today
it stayed cold and I think that definitely sped things up a bit,"
Miller said. "You can see everyone is running a lot faster.
"I don't know if I've ever seen it run like this. The bumps
even before you enter Ciaslat are so fast, you're going 130
kilometers per hour there," Miller added. "It's just impossible
to stay on the ground. That's why it's causing so many problems."
Steven Nyman won his first World Cup race in the downhill at Val
Gardena last year.
After finishing 13th in training, Nyman nodded up to his name
posted below the scoreboard, where the last year's winners are
"Last year I came in and saw the guys names up there and said,
'That would be cool.' Now my name's up there. It's just kind of
cool," the American said.
Marco Sullivan is another American contender. He was fourth in
last year's downhill and posted his best career result in this
season's opening downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta.
Sullivan endorsed the course changes.
"It's good. The jumps are longer. They didn't make it unsafe," he said. "They still have good, steep landings. They're not
slappers on the flat. The air is bigger. A lot of us enjoy the