Skiing: World Cup élite return with a bump at Bormio

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The steep and bumpy Stelvio course in Bormio jolted the world's fastest skiers back into competition mode yesterday after the World Cup circuit's Christmas break.

Following the first training run for tomorrow's downhill, the consensus was that the Stelvio course is bumpier then ever and requires extra-strong legs. The former race-winner Fritz Strobl, of Austria, posted the fastest time of 2min 0.48sec, 1.15sec ahead of Switzerland's Didier Cuche. Another Austrian, Hannes Trinkl, was third fastest, 1.63sec behind.

Last year's winner, Daron Rahlves, was 10th fastest, while the overall World Cup leader, Hermann Maier, was 13th. Rahlves' fellow American Bode Miller was 22nd.

Miller said the bumpy course drained all the energy out of his legs and that the biggest problem was in the course's final section. "You go from full sunlight into an area of shade and it seems flat, but it's absolutely not," he said. "But it's a beautiful course. The first practice is always a little of a mystery, you have to figure out the course. I think tomorrow will be better."

Sebastien Fournier-Bidoz, of France, fell during his run and was taken to a nearby hospital for medical tests. Race officials said they do not believe he suffered any serious injuries. Another practice session today will determine the starting order for tomorrow's race.

Bormio will host the Alpine World Championships in 2005.