Miller Wins Kandahar Combined, Back in Title Hunt

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CHAMONIX, France (Jan. 11) - Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) grabbed his third win of the World Cup season Sunday, ignoring a steady rain to finish third in slalom and take the legendary Kandahar combined title in Chamonix. The combined win and slalom podium vaulted him back into the World Cup title chase, just 84 points behind new leader Lasse Kjus of Norway.

"It wasn't exactly where I wanted to be — I wanted to win," Miller said, "but it's close enough." He's won three World Cup slaloms in his career and was second in World Cup SL points in '02, but this is his first slalom finish of the winter as he's wrestled with adjusting to new equipment.

"I was attacking that second run — I was attacking in the first run, too, but a couple of spots were a little sketchy so I didn't ski so well in the rain. But in the second run, there was definitely some urgency there for me," he said.

With temperatures in the upper 30s, and light but steady rain to start the day, Rocca was fourth in the first run behind Austrian Rainer Schoenfelder. However, Schoenfelder and Kalle Palander made final-run mistakes and dropped off the podium. Rocca won in 1:29.09 — his third World Cup victory as he moved into first the slalom standings for '04. Frenchman Pierrick Bourgeat was second (1:29.17).

Miller's moved up from 10th with the fifth-fastest final run (1:29.52). Chip Knight was 19th and Tom Rothrock 20th. Bryon Friedman, who tied for 10th Saturday in downhill, was 20th in combined.

One of the most storied of racing events, the Kandahar races go back nearly four decades before the World Cup was born with the 1967 season. Begun in 1928, the Kandahar series originally rotated between St. Anton, Austria, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Chamonix was added as a third site in 1948. It was with the Kandahar races that the combined event was introduced.

"It was pouring rain, the conditions were soft and chunky, and the visibility was tough, too, because the rain stuck to your goggles all the time," Miller said.

"It's just been frustrating because I've said over and over it's not necessarily when you take risks that you make mistakes; in Madonna, I was holding back a lot and blew out. In Flachau, I was skiing not conservatively but conservative on a couple of gates and still blew out.

"It's frustrating to know it's not necessarily tactical — it all comes down to execution. It doesn't matter if you're taking a risk."

Miller, who won the first two races of the season, climbed back into the overall points race with Sunday's performance. He got 100 points for the combined win and 80 for the slalom podium, giving him 497 for the season — 84 back of Kjus (581).

Coach sees "huge" victory

"This was huge! It's pretty big," Men's Head Coach Phil McNichol said. "There's never a bad time for a win, of course, but Bode's been skiing very well. We've been testing a lot of equipment and he's been going well in training, and now he did it today. He's had some tough deals, but all the pieces fell into place today."

Course conditions were tough on the field, especially skiers coming out of the back, like Jimmy Cochran and Ted Ligety, who started 50th and 52nd, respectively. "Chip and Tom didn't ski well, but to have them top-20 on a bad day, on a day like this, is okay. But it was such a rock fight for the guys at the back like Jimmy and Ted; they've been skiing so well in Nor Ams and Europa Cups, and they just didn't have a chance today."

Overnight warmth torpedoed the course, which is at the bottom of Saturday's downhill. A DH Friday was weathered out because of rain, snow, sleet and fog but Saturday's Kandahar DH was staged without incident.

"It was a decent downhill track then at the bottom, it was still icy where they put water in for slalom. When we got there this morning," the coach said, "it was full-on spring. It was humid all night, very soft snow. It started drizzling in thhe first run and drizzled the whole second run — quite hard at one point."

The men head next to Wengen, Switzerland, for the Lauberhorn races — two downhills (including the DH they picked up from Chamonix Friday) and a slalom.