February 03, 2012

CHAMONIX, France (AP) -- Klaus Kroell gave Austria its first World Cup downhill victory of the season Friday, edging Bode Miller by 0.01 seconds in a race so tight the top five skiers were separated by only 0.08 seconds.

Miller was faster than Kroell at every split, but the American lost time on the bottom section and finished an eye blink behind Kroell, who won in 2 minutes, 4.22 seconds.

After Miller crossed the line, he spun quickly to check the big screen to see how he did. He held his head in his hands in disbelief and stood still for a few seconds.

"It's tough. ... There's so many places where a hundredth can come or go," Miller said. "I didn't really have a great reach for the finish line, which I always try to do well. That's the worst place to lose it, right out of the start or right at the finish line, and today I kind of left a little bit out there."

This was Kroell's fourth World Cup victory and his first since he won the downhill at Wengen, Switzerland, in January last year.

"Having waited so long it's a great joy, and a great relief. A great weight has been lifted from me," Kroell said through a translator. "It was a very difficult race for me because I made a mistake right at the start, and then on a turn. So it was a bad start."

Under overcast skies and with light snow falling on the La Verte des Houches course, 37-year-old Didier Cuche of Switzerland finished third in his bid for a third straight downhill victory. He was 0.03 seconds behind Miller in 2:04.26. Romed Baumann of Austria and Erik Guay of Canada shared fourth place.

"Because everyone's so close together with the ability, and the courses seem to be easier - they're slower - there's less things that separate the field," Miller said. "A lot of these races are unbelievable close. That's a challenge in itself to really make sure that you stay focused and pay attention to the things that matter."

Miller almost captured his second downhill win of the season after his aggressive run down the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek, Colo., two months ago when he finished ahead of Beat Feuz and Kroell.

"It didn't really feel exactly like my skis were running that well," Miller said. "I knew I got away with a lot of stuff at the top so I knew I'd be fast up there, but once I was on that bottom flat I kind of felt like I was losing."

"It was really wet, kind of weird snow," he added. "And when you hit that stuff ... they (the skis) go all over the place. It's kind of hard to tell what they're doing."

Kroell hopes his victory leads to more successes for the once mighty Austrian downhill team, whose greats Karl Schranz, Franz Klammer, Hermann Maier, Stephan Eberharter and Michael Walchhofer combined for a total of 80 downhill wins.

Hannes Reichelt had the previous best downhill performance by an Austrian this season - second on the Lauberhorn course in Wengen last month. Kroell, meanwhile, has had three third-place finishes.

"We hadn't got a win since the start of the season, although we had quite a few podiums," Kroell said. "So hopefully that will make us more relaxed for the rest of the season, and we can benefit from that."

Cuche, who is set to retire this year, won in Chamonix last year and was very close to adding another win to his glittering collection in his final season. He won downhills in Kitzbuehel, Austria, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, last month.

"It wasn't a case of thinking about the last time someone won three races in a row," Cuche said. "I'm not preoccupied by that kind of thing. I know I can go fast, and I always tell myself to ski at my level and do what I can do."

Although happy with his performance, Cuche was frustrated by dropping 40 points to Kroell in the downhill standings. Cuche leads with 437 points to Kroell's 397 after seven races.

The race was rescheduled from Val Gardena, Italy, the first classic downhill of the season. It had been called off in December because of strong wind.

Chamonix hosts its regular downhill Saturday, followed by a super combined on Sunday.

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