Erik Guay tops in Val Gardena downhill training
Vancouver's Manuel Osborne-Paradis places 3rd
Erik Guay wants revenge. Aksel Lund Svindal only wants to maintain his speed. And Steven Nyman wants to prove that his victory a year ago was no fluke.
As for Bode Miller, he's still getting used to his new, lighter frame in the speed events.
There are plenty of storylines heading into the World Cup season's first classic downhill on the Saslong course at Val Gardena, Italy.
Canada's Guay thought he won the race last year until a drastic weather change helped later starters on a shortened course, with Nyman taking the win and Rok Perko of Slovenia claiming second, relegating Guay to third.
"Last year in my mind I had a victory here. I think I skied a victory and the weather changed. Not to take anything away from Steven or Rok Perko but that's how I look at it," Guay said after leading downhill training Thursday ahead of Svindal and fellow Canadian Manuel Osborne-Paradis.
"All I can do is ski to my potential Saturday and take some chances, in a smart way, then anything is possible," the Canadian added.
Weather could be a factor again, with snow forecast overnight into Friday when racing begins with a super-G, an event Svindal has won twice, including last year.
The downhill Saturday is the first of the European classics that also include Wengen, Switzerland; Kitzbuehel, Austria; and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany — all of which have been World Cup stops since the 1960s.
"[A fair race] is all I ever hope for," said Svindal, the overall World Cup leader who has been dominating the speed events since the start of last season. "I don't care if it's pitch black or if it's sunny, as long as everyone has the same conditions. I think everyone who knows they can win the race on a normal day wants it like that — the same for everyone."
Nyman's only other career win also came in the downhill in Val Gardena, in 2006, and the Saslong's long gliding sections and big jumps suit his 6-foot-4 frame.
"I have long legs and terrain is a big thing [here]," Nyman said. "A lot of the other countries I don't think jump as well as we jump. We train that as kids a lot. A lot of guys want to knock the jumps down and we're kind of like, 'Why are you knocking the jumps down?'
"I've always felt good and comfortable in those scenarios," added Nyman, who is from Sundance, Utah. "Ever since the first day I raced this course, I felt like I could do well here."
Austrian great Franz Klammer and Italian great Kristian Ghedina share the record with four downhill wins each on the Saslong.
Although, as Nyman pointed out, his ski technician Leo Mussi has six wins, since he formerly worked for Ghedina.
"I can never beat Leo's [record] — unless I fire him, but I don't think that will happen," Nyman said with a laugh.
Miller won the super-G in Val Gardena in 2006 but has never won the downhill, with his best finish second in 2008.
"You can do what you can do here but the light and the wind play huge factor," said Miller, carrying his son as he walked back to his motor home. "I've skied well here a lot of times but this one requires a little more luck."
Miller lost more than 20 pounds when he took last season off to recover from left knee surgery. While he finished second in a giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colorado, this month, he has yet to break the top 10 in a speed event this season.
"I don't think the weight is a good thing for the speed events, especially here," Nyman said. "I think with less weight he's not going to get as tired in races like Bormio and Kitzbuehel but Wengen is so flat that could be pretty tough. But we'll see."
Ted Ligety will not race in Val Gardena, and instead has been training in nearby Alta Badia for Sunday's giant slalom on the Gran Risa.