BEAVER CREEK - Switzerland's Didier Cuche won the first day of downhill training during Birds of Prey 2011, for the trivially-inclined.
Maybe training results mean something, and maybe they don't - there's a lot of room for debate - but Cuche, now retired, parlayed that into two top-10 finishes at come race time in the downhill and the super-G last year.
So, if training has significance - it probably does if one is skiing well and doesn't if one is not - Austria's Klaus Kroell topped the field an absolutely balmy first day of training Tuesday at Birds of Prey with a time of 1 minute, 41.52 seconds, followed by teammate Max Franz (1:41.97) and Italy's Christof Innerhofer (1:42:13).
"It's good for confidence, but it says nothing," Kroell said. "It's always good to have a good time, but, OK, it's the first training, so most of the guys are going at it more easy."
Do note that Kroell is the defending World Cup downhill champion, so his top finish Tuesday is not exactly a surprise. Familiar names lined the top of the results sheet. Franz was second in last weekend's season-opening downhill up in Lake Louise, Alberta. Austria's Georg Streitberger, who won the 2010 super-G here, was fourth Tuesday and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal took fifth.
Though it's early in the season, Svindal is probably the favorite going into this weekend's races, particularly Friday's downhill and Saturday's super-G. The Norwegian won both the downhill and super-G up in Alberta last weekend, and has three career wins on this hill.
Svindal certainly isn't going to give back the 200 World Cup points he earned in Canada, but he isn't too fond of being a marked man as the very-early overall leader.
"I definitely like getting off to a good start," Svindal said. "But the whole, 'Everyone's looking at you, watching your video, joking around at the start, can you slow down a little, you're making us look bad,' people don't mean it, and it doesn't affect me. You want to be one of the guys to watch after you finish your run, not at the start. Right now Klaus Kroell's the man to watch."
Not so fast, Aksel.
"For sure, after his first two races, (he) was amazingly strong," Kroell said of Svindal. "He's also here the big favorite, so we have to push."
Call it the traditional brinkmanship of training.
Tuesday was a day for racers to get acclimated to the course and find their line, but there's no question that Birds of Prey is running faster, regardless of the approach to training. Kroell's top time was nearly 4 seconds faster than Cuche's 1:45.54 last year, thanks likely to warm early-season conditions.
Slovenia's Andrej Sporn was the first out of the gate, and sped to sixth. France's Adrian Theaux, second at Lake Louise's super-G last weekend and second here in the same discipline in 2010, was 1.16 seconds off the pace in seventh. Canada's Erik Guay swooshed to eighth and he has a downhill globe from the 2010-11 season. Kjetil Jansrud, of Norway, slid into ninth, while Canada's John Clarey rounded out the top 10.
The top American Tuesday was Travis Ganong in 15th. Right behind him was Marco Sullivan, who made some serious waves by finishing third in the Lake Louise downhill last weekend. That was his first podium finish Jan. 17, 2009, in Switzerland.
"It definitely helps," Sullivan said. "Now, I can look at Aksel and Kroell and be like, 'I can hang with these guys,' instead of trying to fight my way into the top 30. Now, I'm there."
Also "there" are Americans Andrew Weibrecht (26th), Ryan Cochran-Siegle (37th), Ted Ligety (41st) and Steve Nyman (42nd)
Cochran-Siegle, 20, is coming off the best World Cup weekend of his young career, in the points in both the Lake Louise downhill (25th) and super-G (20th).
"It was pretty ideal, I'd say, for me just going into Lake Louise," he said. "I was pretty confident with my skiing. I think I definitely pulled off a couple of good runs, just skied the way I should, within myself. I think that was pretty important for me."
More results like those last weekend here may change the course of Cochran-Siegle's season with regard to moving up to the World Cup tour on a more permanent basis.
Meanwhile, Ligety, who started the season with a staggering win by 2.75 seconds in the first giant slalom of the season in Soelden, Austria, also brings some momentum to Beaver Creek. Better known for his technical skills, the Park City, Utah, native, flew to fourth in super-G in Lake Louise.
"It was really good," Ligety said. "I felt pretty good in my skiing. ... I was really happy with that event. That result, it would have been nice to be six-hundredths faster (and in third place)."
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.