VAL GARDENA, Italy Dec. 18, 2004(AP Andrew Dampf)–Max Rauffer preferred to skip the debate about whether wind played a part in his first World Cup victory or that the favorites did so poorly.
By winning Saturday’s downhill on a wind-shortened course, Rauffer became the first German man to record an Alpine victory in nearly 13 years. Switzerland’s Juerg Gruenenfelder was second and Austria’s Johann Grugger was third.
“I skied a very clean, aggressive run. I couldn’t tell if I was helped by the wind,” Rauffer said. “It’s difficult to know if there is a tail wind. I just want to enjoy this moment.”
Overall World Cup leader Bode Miller finished 14th. The top U.S. skier was Bryon Friedman in seventh place. Daron Rahlves shared 14th with Miller.
“When the wind pulls you there is no way to get around that,” Miller said. “It was a tough day for me. It makes it hard to go fast when the wind is in your face.”
Rauffer, who tore ligaments in his right knee a year ago, covered the classic Saslong course in 1 minute, 50.59 seconds. Gruenenfelder finished only 0.05 seconds behind for his first podium finish. Grugger, an up-and-coming skier, was third, 0.13 seconds back.
Miller still holds a commanding lead in the overall standings with 798 points.
“I just wasn’t lucky, there is not anything else to it,” he said. “My legs felt pretty good at the bottom.”
Defending overall champion Hermann Maier (419 points) came in 37th and fellow Austrian Michael Walchhofer (395), winner of Friday’s super giant slalom, was 20th.
Gruenenfelder broke his kneecap four years ago and missed the next two years before returning last season.
“I knew the conditions had been changing at the start,” he said. “Maybe I did have a little luck, but after all the bad luck I’ve had I deserved it.”
Antoine Deneriaz of France, winner of this classic downhill the past two seasons, made a major slip-up midway through his run and finished ninth.
Italy’s Kristian Ghedina, who is tied with former Austrian great Franz Klammer with a record four victories on the Saslong, was 12th.
“It was a lottery draw in which only the skiers who started with the 10-15 bibs had a chance,” Ghedina said, referring to the only time when the wind let up. Rauffer started 13th and Gruenenfelder 15th.
By entering Saturday’s race, Ghedina equaled the mark by Austria’s Peter Wirnsberger, an eight-time winner in the 1980s, for the most downhills raced on the World Cup circuit with 150.
During Ghedina’s run a deer ran on the course and chased him for the last few hundred yards. The race was delayed several minutes while organizers caught up with the animal and released it into the woods.
“Poor thing, he was very scared,” Ghedina said.
Two seasons ago, the German federation grew so tired of poor results that it pulled its entire downhill team, including Rauffer, off the World Cup circuit, sending the skiers to learn on the second-tier Europa Cup.
Rauffer’s best previous result was third place in the Kvitfjell, Norway, downhill in 1999-00. His victory was the first by a German man since Markus Wasmeier in a downhill at Garmisch in 1992.
“It’s not easy to carry the hopes of the entire German team, especially the last few years when we haven’t been that good,” Rauffer said.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press