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Svindal skips classic Wengen downhill as knee injury flares

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway starts his race during a training session for the men's downhill race at the Alpine Ski World Cup on the Lauberhorn, in Wengen, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway starts his race during a training session for the men's downhill race at the Alpine Ski World Cup on the Lauberhorn, in Wengen, Switzerland, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)

WENGEN, Switzerland — A high point of the World Cup season, the classic downhill at Wengen, will be without its defending champion Aksel Lund Svindal on Saturday.

The race itself could also be a casualty if the forecast 45 centimetres (17 inches) of snow dumps on the course.

Svindal said on Friday he will skip the storied Lauberhorn race — the oldest, longest and quirkiest downhill on the World Cup circuit — to get treatment for a knee injury, he wrote in an Instagram post.

"One of the most spectacular races in the world. But I will not be pushing out of this start gate tomorrow," announced Svindal, who completed training runs this week overlooked by the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau mountains.

"There's something that's not the way it should be in my knee, and I need to get it figured out. Difficult decision, but hopefully the right one..." said the 34-year-old Norwegian, who left the Swiss resort on Friday.

For downhill racers like Svindal, back-to-back classics in Wengen and Kitzbuehel, Austria, are when their World Cup season peaks.

Svindal finally won in Wengen last January at his 10th career attempt, but his standout season ended one week later when he tore his right ACL in a crash in Kitzbuehel.

On his comeback in December, Svindal returned to form with top-three finishes in races in Val d'Isere, France, and Val Gardena, Italy. The bumpy Italian race is known for being physically demanding.

Wengen's race, now in its 87th year, is also grueling when run down the full 4. 3-kilometre (2 3/4-mile) distance.

That looked unlikely given forecasts for snow and 60 kph (37 mph) gusts before the scheduled Saturday lunchtime start.

Organizers are focused on preparing a 2. 7-kilometre (1 2/3-mile) course to start lower down the hill.

"There is probably no chance to go from the top," race director Markus Waldner said on Friday.

It would be the third year in four, including for Svindal's win, that a shorter Lauberhorn race was run due to weather issues.

With clearer skies not expected until the afternoon, a higher start number for the top 20 racers is likely favoured .

In Svindal's absence, teammate Kjetil Jansrud used his status as highest-ranked racer to pick start bib No. 19, the highest number open to him.

Still, Waldner also raised the prospect of a cancellation when he told team leaders that a postponed downhill would not bump Sunday's slalom from the schedule.

Wengen would be the fourth downhill cancelled this season — including both in North America which found new dates elsewhere — leaving two gaps in the schedule.

The United States could step in with Beaver Creek, Colorado, an option to stage a make-up race in March. The Birds of Prey course lost its original slot in December due to a lack of snow and warm temperatures.

Waldner suggested Beaver Creek could be used in the vacant March 10-12 slot, immediately before the men's and women's circuits head to Aspen for the finals week races.