Didier Cuche takes Kitzbuehel downhill

KITZBUEHEL, Austria -- Didier Cuche of Switzerland used his last visit to the Streif Saturday to earn a record fifth victory on one of the World Cup's most challenging downhill courses.

Bode Miller nearly crashed on an icy bump and finished 29th.

Cuche, who two days ago announced he will retire at the end of the season, overtook Austrian great Franz Klammer, who won the Hahnenkamm downhill four times in the 1970s and 80s.

"That record was my final thought before I left the start gate," Cuche said. "Somehow it helped me to relax a bit and to enjoy my run."

Cuche went down the mountain in 1 minute, 13.28 seconds in heavy snowfall to beat Austrian pair Romed Baumann and Klaus Kroell by 0.24 and 0.30 seconds, respectively.

In the finish area, Klammer was among the first to congratulate his Swiss successor.

"Cuche is now the emperor of Kitzbuehel, I can live with that," said the 58-year-old Klammer, before joking, "I think he should have quit already before this season."

The snowfall became heavier during the race and slowed late starters. Many of the pre-race favorites battled with the conditions.

Cuche's teammate Beat Feuz finished 0.45 back in sixth to stay on top of the discipline standings with 300 points, leading Cuche by 23.

Miller barely avoided a crash in the icy lower section of the course, finishing 1.35 seconds behind the winner.

"These were less than ideal conditions," Miller said. "But it's no fluke that Didier won. For me, I was pushing pretty hard, I knew I had to take some risks."

Miller was relieved by his quick reactions.

"It feels good to make a save like that," he said. "Those are life-savers. One hundred points is great, but I always try to be at the finish with all my parts intact."

Cuche did not post the fastest intermediate times but chose the right line at the Hausbergkante for his trademark fast finish, which has earned him the victory in four of the past five years.

"I lost the line several times but I got it just right in the final section," he said.

Cuche, who also won the first downhill of the season in November in Lake Louise, Canada, has 11 victories in the discipline and 19 overall.

After days of warm weather featuring heavy rain and wet snow, a 500-man crew worked through the night to get the fresh snow off the mountain.

But an hour before the start, an overhanging cloud cover and snowfall setting in again forced organizers to lower the starting gate to shorten the 3.3-kilometer course to 2 kilometers.

"It was not easy to race," Baumann said. "Your visibility was hampered by snow on your goggles. On such a shortened course, you can't allow yourself to make any mistake."

Baumann led Cuche by 0.25 at the last intermediate time but was not able to match the Swiss skier's outstanding finish, losing almost half a second there.

Kroell dropped behind Cuche earlier in the race, struggling in the middle part of the course.

"That's where I lost the race, but a podium in Kitzbuehel always makes you happy," Kroell said. "It's incredible what Cuche has done. It's maybe good for me, but a bummer for ski racing that he is not going to race here anymore."