KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia Feb. 24, 2004 (USSA)--The next three weekends of racing will determine who wins the men's alpine World Cup overall title, whether upstart Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) can take down Austrian icon Hermann Maier with eight races remaining. But, says U.S. Men's Head Coach Phil McNichol, "Everything depends on what goes on this weekend."
The men race giant slalom Saturday and slalom Sunday in their annual visit to Kranjska Gora. Maier leads the overall points parade with 1,054 points with eight races—two downhills, two super Gs, two giant slaloms and two slaloms—remaining. Miller, second overall a year ago to Stephan Eberharter, the Austrian overall champion for the last two seasons, is third overall at 984; he's one point back of Austrian Benjamin Raich, who suffered a concussion earlier this month in a race in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Eberharter stands fourth (61).
Outdoor Life Network, which follows the World Cup all season, will carry same-day coverage Saturday night at 7 ET with a rebroadcast Sunday at 5 p.m. ET. Online webcasting will be available at alpinerace.com.
"You've got Bode and Hermann in opposite corners of the ring," McNichol said Tuesday, "and they're going to battle it out, two heavyweights, toe to toe. We're heading into some very exciting racing."
Having the past weekend off should help Miller, the only racer—male or female—who has competed in every World Cup race last season and so far this winter, he said. Last year, he slowed noticeably after winning gold medals in giant slalom and combined plus silver in super G at the 2003 World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. This time, a week off—with no training, no time on snow, just kicking back—should help, the coach said.
"This is a great opportunity for Bode to recover as he makes this last push over the final three weekends," McNichol said. "It should be pretty advantageous for him.
"We'll find out this weekend. Bode's not only in the hunt for the overall, but he's right on Kalle Palander's tail (39 points back with two races left) in GS points, too. He needs to stay substantially ahead of Kalle Saturday and then at World Cup Finals to win the GS title, which would be a natural step forward for Bode. He was not only second overall in 2003 but he was second in GS last year, too...and he's skied well, especially when he won the first two GS races of the season."
While Miller has become a superstar, drawing crowds and major media interest at every stop, McNichol said he and the coaching staff have worked to better manage Miller's time so he isn't always being pulled in one direction or another. "Minimize the distractions, maximize the production," he said.
"Bode needs two podiums, if not two wins to stay in the GS chase...and, obviously, that would help keep him in the running for the overall. He'll certainly need a podium to gain some ground on Hermann in the slalom—I don't expect Maier will run that because he normally doesn't ski slalom—and I think we also should keep an eye on Raich and Eberharter, too, because he knows how to ski GS, too; let's not forget he won the World Cup title two years ago."
After Kranjska Gora, the men head to Kvitfjell, Norway, and the 1994 Olympic speed run for a downhill and super G March 6-7. World Cup Finals March 10-14 in the 2006 Olympic region around Sestriere, Italy, will include downhill, super G, GS and slalom.
"But it all starts this weekend, Bode and Hermann...and we'll get a good handle right away on what can happen Saturday in the GS," McNichol said.