Austria's Michael Walchhofer added another victory to his farewell season Wednesday, becoming the first skier to win the grueling World Cup downhill on the Stelvio course three times.
Walchhofer, who has already announced he will retire at the end of this season, clocked 1 minute, 59.66 on the circuit's most physically demanding layout for his third victory this season and the 18th of his career.
"Winning three times on this difficult slope _ maybe the most technical course on the circuit _ really means a lot to me," Walchhofer said. "It's a perfect start to the season."
Silvan Zurbriggen of Switzerland was the only other skier to break 2 minutes, finishing a mere 0.08 seconds behind in second place. Christof Innerhofer of Italy was third, 0.36 back, in perfectly sunny and cold conditions, with the temperature hovering just below the freezing level.
While most skiers bent over in exhaustion upon crossing the finish, the 35-year-old Walchhofer had enough energy left for a celebration that included a few quick slalom turns before he came to a stop.
"I didn't do so well in training and I wasn't enjoying myself. So this morning after inspection, I went back to my hotel room and just told myself to have fun and it worked," Walchhofer said.
Walchhofer's two other downhill wins in Bormio came on consecutive days in 2006.
Retired Austrian great Hermann Maier won four races overall on the Stelvio, but only two downhills. Bode Miller has three victories here, but also only two in downhill.
Miller finished eighth this time, matching his best result this season. The American was on pace for a podium spot midway down but went slightly off line in the lower section, when racers' legs are burning from the Stelvio's constant turns and bumps, most of which are covered with shade.
Having done no speed training over the summer, Miller is still not satisfied with his equipment.
"It's all about the setup," he said. "If you're not comfortable with your setup it's tough to execute."
Zurbriggen, who won his first career downhill in Val Gardena earlier this month, took the lead in the overall standings from American Ted Ligety, who skipped this race.
Zurbriggen now leads with 395 points, one in front of Walchhofer and 74 ahead of Ligety.
"I'm really satisfied with myself with such a great season," said Zurbriggen, who had contemplated skipping this race. "I just decided to come a few days ago, and I guess I made the right decision."
Innerhofer won this race two years ago but was slowed throughout last season by a series of injuries.
"It's good to show that I'm skiing fast again," the Italian said. "I'm very pleased with this result."
Having won two of the three races thus far, Walchhofer holds a 15-point lead over Zurbriggen in the downhill standings.
Two other Austrians who skied immediately after Walchhofer didn't finish.
Klaus Kroell was on pace for the podium before he fell and slid down head first for several hundred meters (yards), bloodying his face but apparently suffering no other injuries.
Mario Scheiber was faster than Walchhofer through the middle split, then missed a gate.
Robbie Dixon of Canada also fell and reported bruises, but no serious injuries.
Most of the men have a break now for New Year's, while the top 15 in the overall standings will compete in a special parallel slalom city event in Munich on Jan. 2.