BORMIO, Italy — Austria's Klaus Kroell goes into Thursday's knee-jarring downhill on the Stelvio course with memories of the fall that robbed him of a podium finish last year.
American Marco Sullivan and Canadian Robbie Dixon are looking to rally from season-ending concussions from a year ago.
For Adrien Theaux of France and Patrick Kueng of Switzerland, potential top-three finishes were wiped out when this season's previous downhill in Val Gardena was canceled because of high wind.
Throughout the field, motivation is running high for the final race of 2011.
Kroell led the final training session Wednesday, with Dixon second and Kueng third. Bode Miller, who won the World Cup downhill in 2007, coasted to 28th place.
"I don't try to win the training runs," Miller said. You've got to respect this course for what it does — it tears your body up. I try other things and save my legs a little. Work on areas where I usually don't do so well and try to see where I can gain a little extra speed."
Sullivan knows the difficulty of handling this course.
"I have no memory of that whole day. I woke up in the hospital and I didn't know where I was," Sullivan said. "Yesterday was a little bit nerve-wracking getting past that again but it really hasn't changed much."
Kroell had the finish line in sight last year when he fell and slid down head first for several hundred yards, bloodying his face.
"I was maybe on the podium or (going to) win this race, but mistakes can happen," Kroell said. "I had made a big mistake on the top so I risked it all but I wasn't lucky. ... Now I hope I can make it better than last year."
Kroell is carrying the pressure of the entire Austrian team, which hasn't won a single speed race this season.
Michael Walchhofer, who won this race three times and retired at the end of last season, has been called in this weekend on a trial basis to mentor the younger Austrian racers.
"He has a lot of experience and everyone can learn from him," Kroell said.
Meanwhile, Dixon is still trying to get his confidence back after last year's fall.
"It feels good to be back," he said. "Obviously it was a tough road after last year here. So I'm just building on that every race, every run."
Theaux and Kueng were second and third when the race in Val Gardena was canceled this month.
"That's behind us now," Theaux said. "It's not easy, but I like this race. It's very difficult for the legs and it's very bumpy."
The Stelvio is known for its bumps and, with limited snow cover, they're even more jarring this year. Add difficult visibility and it's easy to understand why most racers call it the toughest physical test of the season.
"If the light was OK and it was not so bumpy it would not be a problem," said Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway. "But now look how dark it is up there — you don't see anything. It's like going running in the woods if it's dark — you can't see where to place your feet. You can't see what's coming and everything is throwing you out of balance the whole time."
Overcast weather scheduled for Thursday could create an even playing field.
Miller, who also swept the downhill and super-G titles at the 2005 world championships here, prefers those conditions.
"It's easier here if it's cloudy," Miller said. "When you have to go between the sun and the shade, it makes a big difference. Visibility is the biggest factor on this hill."
Sullivan has four top-15 finishes on the Stelvio, although his best was 11th in 2008.
"To my mind, it's the toughest course we have," Sullivan said. "Maybe it's not the scariest or the longest, but as far as a gnarly course that tests your strength the whole way and is turny, bumpy and rattles you. It's definitely the toughest on the entire circuit."