Lauberhorn To Challenge Skier Maier

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Wengen, Switzerland--Jan. 14, (AP by Erica Bulman)--After brushing aside his rivals to take an almost-insurmountable lead in the overall World Cup standings, ``The Herminator'' is relishing the thought of a newer, more challenging adversary.

The Lauberhorn, the longest and one of the most demanding downhill courses on the men's circuit, is the venue Saturday for Austrian Hermann Maier and the others.

``The Lauberhorn downhill is a monster with passages like nowhere else,'' said Maier, a winner two years ago in his first appearance on its slope. ``It has long gliding sections that don't really suit me.''

If those sections on the Lauberhorn are not tailored to Maier's aggressive style, the Austrian is particularly brilliant in the technically tricky passages like the Hundschopf and the lower section near the finishing area.

Maier was the fastest in training Friday, clocking in at 2 minutes, 30.97 seconds.

Slightly modified this year in an effort to increase safety, race officials have added a few more turns, forcing skiers to slow down. Not everyone is happy about the adjustments.

``I was very disappointed in training,'' said Didier Cuche, Switzerland's top downhiller. ``Instead of having nine downhills and six super-Gs, we're going to end up with 15 super-Gs.''

The course should play directly into the strength of Maier, a winner six times in 11 tries this season.

Staking out his territory, Maier has made the super-G crystal globe his own the last two years, winning 10 races _ including both super-Gs this season.

Never worse than fourth on the grueling Lauberhorn course, Maier is in position to solidify his lead in the overall. He has 1,020 points, 396 more than Kjetil Andre Aamodt of Norway.

With reigning World Cup champion Lasse Kjus of Norway out of action with the flu, much Maier's principal competition should come from his own team.

Andreas Schifferer won here in 1998, the same year he took the downhill title. Hannes Trinkl beat Maier in a close downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta. Stephan Eberharter has finished second to Maier in two downhills, and was third in Canada.

Eberharter was third-fastest Friday, behind Maier and Josef Strobl.

Stephan Eberharter, who finished runner-up to Maier in two downhills, and third right behind him in Lake Louise this season, ranked third in 2:31.18.

The winner in Wengen in 1995 and 1997, Italy's Kristian Ghedina also figures among the top contenders.

Swiss fans will have to wait until the slalom on Sunday for a realistic chance to see one of their own skiers on the top step of the podium. Still, the Austrians will be tough to beat.

Didier Plaschy, the winner of two slaloms this season, is the top Swiss skier in the event. Swiss giant slalom specialist Michael Von Gruenigen, second here last year, is seeking his first career victory in the shorter discipline.

They'll have to beat Austrians Thomas Stangassinger, the current slalom points leader; and Benjamin Raich, the winner here last year.

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