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Michael Walchhofer Wins Season's First Downhill Classic

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VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) _ Michael Walchhofer won the first downhill classic of the World Cup season Saturday and increased his lead in the discipline standings.

The Austrian covered the 2.14-mile Saslong course in 1 minute, 56.70 seconds. Didier Cuche of Switzerland was 0.18 behind, and Scott Macartney of the United States was third, 0.56 back.

Bode Miller finished eighth. He was second in Friday's super-G and on pace for another podium finish until he got a little wild on the lower section of the course, flailing his arms to keep his balance.

Another American, defending champion Steven Nyman, got his skis tangled and fell 5 seconds into his run.

Walchhofer also won the previous downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., and now has six top-three finishes at this resort in the Italian Dolomites.

Walchhofer almost crashed into a gate heading into the tricky, turn-filled Ciaslat section but had established such a big lead before the mistake that the lost time didn't impact his result.

Cuche won Friday's super-G, while for Macartney it was his first top-three since a super-G in nearly two years ago Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Canadian Erik Guay finished fourth after leading Thursday's final training session and Ambrosi Hoffmann was fifth in another good day for the Swiss team.

Val Gardena is one of the five classic downhills on the World Cup circuit. The others are: Val d'Isere, France; Wengen, Switzerland; Kitzbuehel, Austria; and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Val Gardena is celebrating its 40th year of World Cup racing this weekend.

Organizers made some slight changes to the Saslong course this season, widening it in some sections and making jumps bigger in others, although the defining features remain the camel bumps and the Ciaslat section.

The three camel bumps come midcourse and the second in the series launches skiers in the air for 75 yards at speeds upward of 75 mph. In 2003, Walchhofer cleared a record 88 yards on the jump.

After the camel bumps, the skiers head into the twisty Ciaslat, the most technical section of the course.

The men's circuit traverses the Gardena pass for Sunday's traditional giant slalom in Alta Badia, and a slalom on Monday.
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