Soelden, Austria, Oct. 28, 2001--Frenchman Frederic Covili, a World Championships medal-winner who never had stepped on a World Cup podium, won his first race Sunday while Bode Miller (Franconia, NH) rebounded nicely from a knee injury by finishing fifth to lead three Americans into the points in a giant slalom, the first men's Cafe de Colombia World Cup race of the Olympic season.
Covili, giant slalom bronze medalist last February at the World Championships in St. Anton, Austria, held off Lasse Kjus of Norway on the final run to win with a time of 2:14.50 in clear weather and mid-30s temperatures with about 15,000 fans enjoying the action. Stephan Eberharter of Austria, looking to fill the void caused by Hermann Maier's motorcycle accident in August that caused a compound leg fracture, was second, just .09 out.
Third place was a tie between Swiss great Michael Von Gruenigen and Fredrik Nyberg of Sweden, who also tore left knee ligaments last season -- two weeks before Miller. Their time was 2:14.82. Then came Miller, who injured his left knee when he crashed during the combined downhill in St. Anton, finishing in 2:14.90. He was 10th in the first, coming out of the No. 15 start, and hung-up the sixth-fastest second run. With the guidance of Dr. Richard Steadman, who said surgery wouldn't necessarily be better than aggressive rehabilitation, Miller scorned surgery and, as he showed during an encouraging preseason string of training camps, came back without a problem.
"I felt great in New Zealand. I skied well down there in August with some Norwegians, and I skied well here in two October camps in Europewith Austrians," Miller said. He still has to work on his start, he said, in which he powers off to skate out of the start house, but that will come."First run I almost fell over and second run I got it better. Still not as good as I could, but it'll come."
Daron Rahlves (Sugar Bowl, CA) - starting 31st - was 13th in the opening run and finished 19th in the field of 70 racers. Erik Schlopy, startingfourth and finishing 16th in the first run, survived a near-fall at the bottom to finish 22nd. Four other U.S. skiers failed to make the second run onthe Rettenbach Glacier above Soelden. "Today was a good day. I wasn't quite sure how I was doing in GS. I haven't trained too much with the GS guys this preseason," Rahlves said."It was a blast having this crowd all fired up and getting back into racing. We're excited to start the season. I've really been looking forward to it.... It's been a long summer and it's nice to get back into the racing scene. I feel I need a few races to get myself going, to feel comfortable in thestart.
"The first run I felt a little nervous. It was tough. I skied conservative in the middle," he continued, "and skied the top and the bottom well."
Schlopy rocked back on his right hip on the flats of the lower half of the second run. "I tipped over and made a great recovery but I lost a lot ofspeed," he said.
Also returning to action Sunday was Dane Spencer (Boise, ID), who as battled chronic back problems for most of the last two seasons andwho had been sidelined since last December after tearing ligaments in his right knee.
Spencer, who failed to reach the run after starting 38th, had not trained giant slalom until three weeks ago and hadn't run a full-length GScourse until Friday. "I was happy to get the opportunity to race," he said. "My leg's not 100 percent yet but I think I can do it. It's just gonna take alitttle more time."
The Cafe de Colombia schedule goes into its continual racing phase Nov. 22-25 with the Chevy Truck Aspen Winternational in Colorado asmen and women each have another GS plus the opening slalom of the season.
CAFE de COLOMBIA WORLD CUP
Soelden, AUT - Oct. 28Men's Giant Slalom (Season Opener)
1. Frederic Covili, France, 2:14.50
2. Stephan Eberharter, Austria, 2:14.59
3. (tie) Michael Von Gruenigen, Switzerland, and Fredrik Nyberg, Sweden, 2:14.82 each
5. Bode Miller, Franconia, N.H., 2:14.90
6. Lasse Kjus, Norway, 2:15.20
7. Benjamin Raich, Austria, 2:15.21
8. Andreas Schifferer, Austria, 2:15.24
9. Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Norway, 2:15.26
10. Christian Mayer, Austria, 2:15.28
19. Daron Rahlves, Sugar Bowl, Calif., 2:16.05
22. Erik Schlopy, Park City, Utah, 2:16.26
Did not qualify for 2nd run: Chip Knight, Stowe, VT; Dane Spencer, Boise, ID; Thomas Vonn, Newburgh, NY; Casey Puckett, Aspen, CO.