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Pace quickens at Birds of Prey training

Chris Freud
Vail Daily
Adrien Theaux, of France, drops into a tuck while heading into the finish area during the second day of the Birds of Prey World Cup downhill training on Wednesday at Beaver Creek.. Theaux was the fastest racer of the day.
Justin Q. McCarty | Special to the Daily |

Birds of Prey 2014

Today

Off day

Friday

Downhill, 10:45 a.m.

Saturday

Super-G, 11 a.m.

Sunday

Giant slalom, 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

BEAVER CREEK — The first sign was that American Ted Ligety came down in green numbers.

Ligety has had some notable speed results during his career — Olympic gold in the combined in the 2006 Olympics and super-G at the 2013 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Schladming, Austria — but that was fast for the giant-slalom champ.

Wednesday’s second — and final — training run saw times speed up at Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek, as the field collectively dialed it in for Friday’s downhill.

“I changed some settings from yesterday,” said France’s Adrien Theaux, who posted the top time of the day in 1 minute, 40.30 seconds. “The feeling was better and the time was too.”

While Norway’s Kjetil Jansrud recorded a faster top time on Tuesday at 1:40.06, the pack tightened considerably on Wednesday. Eight racers punched in under 1:41 in the second training run, while only four were faster than that mark on Tuesday.

Italy’s Peter Fill finished second on Wednesday after a third-place on Tuesday. Teammate Dominik Paris made it two Italians on the training “podium,” finishing third.

American Travis Ganong punched in at fourth, with Jansrud, who is the early favorite after sweeping the Lake Louise, Alberta, downhill and super-G races last weekend, was fifth.

“Today, I tried to experiment with my line,” Jansrud said. “I had a good run yesterday, and tried to find some additional speed today. It worked in some places, but in other places it didn’t. We’ll see. At least, I tried and we’ll see on Friday.”

And in fairness to Ligety, he was indeed fast, finishing seventh.

New rules

Most speed stops on the World Cup schedule three days of training, primarily because of weather. FIS, the International Ski Federation, requires a minimum of one day of training for a downhill, the sports marquee event, to be held.

Scheduling three days of training was certainly the right call at Birds of Prey last year. The first two days of training were wiped out by a combination of snow up in Calgary — airplanes were grounded up in Alberta from where the tour is the week before coming to Birds of Prey — and a powder day here on Day 2.

When the athletes arrived and the snow cleared, Birds of Prey finally had its first training on Day 3, and the downhill proceeded.

FIS added a new rule for the 2014-15 season to schedule three days and train for two to preserve course conditions. With two full practices in the books, tomorrow is an off day for the athletes, although most will likely be training on skis in some form in the valley.

“It’ll be good,” said American Steve Nyman, who was ninth on Wednesday. “I’ll probably get some training in on skis to stay on top of it. But the intensity of a full World Cup run, it’s taxing. Just to go out and ski some super-G or GS will be good to reset.”

Day 2 adjustments

Ironically, there is no wear and tear on Birds of Prey. Skiers from multiple nations raved about the conditions, regardless of start position, meaning the course was holding up nicely.

“Perfect,” Jansrud said. “This is by far the best hill we’re skiing, best condition we have every year. It’s not very icy and tough, but it’s still compact snow and a dream to ski on.”

Racers adjusted to the Talon Turn just after The Brink, a place where 21 racers skied off course on Tuesday. (No one was disqualified for missing the gate during training.) The race crew also modified the Screech Owl Jump.

Despite all this, Birds of Prey is not turning into a “kinder and gentler” racecourse. There was still plenty of air time for racers, and spectators were enjoying it from the new Red Tail Stadium, whose capacity has been enlarged to fit 3,500, for next year’s Worlds, up from 1,000 in previous years.


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