Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Riesch keeps distance from Vonn in World Cup race

By the U.S. Ski Team, Ski Racing Magazine News Service and Idaho Mountain Express

Courtesy photo by Jonas Ericsson/Agence Zoom/Getty Images Lindsey Vonn charges to second place in Sunday’s super giant slalom at Are, Sweden to finish just 0.1 behind Germany‘s Maria Riesch.

With an 196-point lead over three-time defending champion Lindsey Vonn, Germany's Maria Riesch is looking more and more like she's ready to claim her first World Cup overall women's title this month.

Riesch won her fifth and sixth races of the 2010-11 Audi FIS World Cup season Friday and Sunday at Are, Sweden—taking the super combined and super giant slalom. And she was second in Saturday's downhill won by Vonn—her 40th Cup victory.

Vonn (1,320 points) could be in the unusual position of winning three World Cup discipline titles this season but still fall short of Riesch (1,516 points). That's because of Riesch's 610-170 lead over Vonn in the slalom and giant slalom standings.

Nine races remain on this season's women's World Cup schedule, four of those speed races which Vonn has relied on this season as she has struggled in giant slalom and slalom races.

The Women's World Cup now moves to Tarvisio, Italy for a super combined, downhill and super G March 4-6. Vonn will pretty much have to run the table in the speed races and hope Riesch falters along the way. Vonn will still need to make up some ground in technical races.

"I'm not counting myself out, but it's looking pretty good for Maria for the overall," said Vonn. "She knows that and I know that."

Riesch, Vonn dominate at Are

American Lindsey Vonn looked like her World Cup downhill-winning self again Saturday in Are, Sweden, taking her seventh victory of the season following three weeks of dealing with the symptoms of a concussion.

Vonn, 26, who won a world championship silver medal in the downhill two weeks ago, kept a tight line down the 2,731-meter Olympia course in tough, flat lit conditions to finish in one minute, 40.93 seconds, 0.13 seconds ahead of Slovenian Tina Maze in second.

"Today was tough, it was pretty dark and you had to be extremely clean to be fast—that's a difficult combination," said Vonn.

Overall leader and Friday's super combined winner, German Maria Riesch was 0.21 seconds back in third place. Vonn, the reigning Olympic champion in the discipline, maintains the downhill lead with 520 points over Riesch's 417. The duo have combined to win the past 15 World Cup downhills.

Three World Cup downhills remain on this season's women's calendar as Vonn battles from behind for her fourth consecutive overall title.

Vonn said, "There are still a lot of races left in this season and Maria is skiing incredibly well.

"It's also pretty impressive to see what Tina is doing right now. She showed everyone something in Garmisch that racers already knew and she's been able to keep that going."

After having encouraging results (2nd, 3rd) in downhill training runs and taking the leading time in yesterday's super G leg of a combined, Vonn was back on her game.

It was her 40th World Cup career victory, putting her fifth in the all-time rankings, just one win behind still active Swede Anja Paerson (DNF today). It was her third win in Are.

Riesch, a double bronze medalist at her home world championships in Garmisch recently, stepped up to her 13th World Cup podium of the season (14th with Sunday's SG triumph). She has had at least one top-three finish in all five disciplines.

Behind Vonn's victory, the U.S. women had a tremendous day.

Stacey Cook finished fifth after putting down an impressive run (1:41.99) in the No. 3 bib, taking the early lead and holding through the next eight racers until the top-ranked women were ushered in by Maze. It was Cook's second-best World Cup result ever since finishing fourth at Lake Louise in 2006. Cook gave credit for her best result in four years to some western U.S. powder skiing.

Recently minted world championship super G silver medalist Julia Mancuso never quite found the right line and finished 11th, 1.51 seconds off the wining time. Leanne Smith and Laurenne Ross also found the points in 18, and 25th, respectively.

Saturday's race was marred by the horrific crash of Swiss racer Nadja Kamer. High on the course, Kamer took a turn too wide and collided with the safety netting on the left side of the course, sending her somersaulting across the course, finally coming to rest in the right side fences. She was taken down in a ski patrol toboggan.

The race was delayed for about 15 minutes. According to early reports, Kamer escaped with only bruising on her left wrist and hand and will be fitted with a cast.

On Sunday, it couldn't have been any closer on the Are, Sweden super G track. Riesch secured her sixth World Cup victory of the season just one-hundredth of a second ahead of friend and chief rival in the overall standings, Lindsey Vonn.

Fellow American Julia Mancuso, the recently crowned super G world championship silver medalist, was 0.79 seconds back in third place for her third World Cup podium.

"It's a lucky win but it's good to have luck on your side from time to time. It has not always been the case," Riesch, who finished second to Vonn in the overall standings the past two seasons, told Reuters.

"I have great hopes now (for the World Cup), especially after this weekend in which I managed to beat Lindsey twice. I think I turned the odds on my side and if I cannot win more points, the goal is now not to lose any."

It was Riesch's first super G win in since 2008.

The World Cup's top duo had all the attention this weekend as the World Cup tour resumed following a two-week "break" for the 2011 World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Riesch, a double bronze medalist at her home championships, got things going again on Friday with the win in the super combined thanks to a great showing in the afternoon slalom leg after Vonn had lead in the morning's super G portion before finishing sixth. Saturday it was Vonn, with a brand new downhill Worlds silver medal in her pocket, on top of the downhill podium and Riesch in third.

Sunday, the two friends literally could not have been any tighter as the sunny skies that had graced the area all week were blanketed with overcast conditions. Riesch crossed the finish line in one minute, 13.24 seconds, a half a hair a head of Vonn. All Vonn could do was throw her head back in disbelief. The pair has finished 1-2 five times this season.

"I thought I skied a good race, unfortunately I lost by one hundredth of a second, which is a snap of your finger. That's life," said Vonn, who was on the right side of the hundredths in late January when she won a super G over Riesch by five hundredths. "It's definitely frustrating, especially at this time of the year, with the overall World Cup so tight. One hundredth is twenty points. It would have been great if we could have just tied."

Vonn, who maintains a 131-point lead 460-329 over Riesch in the super G standings with three wins and two second-place finishes this season, came down the freshened up track following a TV break in the #16 bib to take the lead from Austrian Nicole Hosp (fourth today) by 0.80 seconds.

Three racers later, Riesch had lost most of a 0.15-second advantage at the last split timer, but flicked her wrist across the finish line beam just in time to beat Vonn and claim her 14th podium of the season.

Another three racers later, Mancuso was the last to come close, but didn't quite have enough to unseat the top duo as she continues to have her best season in three years.

Mancuso, Vonn and Riesch have shared three World Cup podiums this season. Mancuso, a four-time World Cup winner, has gone four years without a victory.

It was a heartbreaking weekend for local hero Anja Paerson.

After leading both downhill training runs on her home snow, the fourth all-time winningest woman ski racer just missed the podium in fourth in the super combined and failed to finish the downhill. She was 15 seconds into today's race when she intentionally skied off course, clicked out of her skis and dropped to the ground clutching her right knee. The severity of the injury is not yet known.

In Friday's super combined at Are, Riesch extended her lead with her fifth victory of the season.

But the run of the day came from recently crowned giant slalom world champ Tina Maze who took to the Gaestrappet slalom course with an intensity none could match. Standing eighth (0.76 seconds back) after the super G leg, Maze ripped to the fastest slalom time of the day in 45.19 seconds then watched as the top seven first-run leaders tried to catch up.

Only first-run runner up Riesch, with a 0.60-second lead on Maze coming out of the slalom start house, was able to beat her as she hung on to 0.40 seconds of her advantage to claim her third career World Cup super combined victory. She is also the reigning Olympic champ in the discipline.

With the win, Riesch edged past American Lindsey Vonn (6th Friday) and Austrian Elizabeth Goergl (tied for 2nd) in the super combined standings with a 145-140 advantage and only one combined race remaining on this season's World Cup calendar.

Riesch, a double bronze medalist at her home in Garmisch, was also able to tack on 60 more points to her lead over three-time defending overall champion Vonn in the overall ranks.

Vonn led the way into the afternoon slalom leg with a 0.16-second lead on Riesch in the morning super G run, but her recent slalom troubles (four consecutive first-run DNFs) continued as her advantage dwindled down to a 1.16-second deficit and she finished sixth.

It was the first time Vonn missed the podium in a World Cup super combined that she finished since March of 2008, a string that includes six top-three results and three wins. Vonn told reporters Friday that she felt fully recovered from the head injury that had her feeling "cloudy" two weeks ago.

Teammate Julia Mancuso was close behind in eighth place after standing fifth in the super G.

World Cup men in Bulgaria

Put a few medals in a guy's pocket and nothing phases him.

Christof Innerhofer faced an unusual slalom first combined on a track the men had never seen before at Bansko, Bulgaria Saturday. Instead of anticipated fog (the reason for going slalom first) they got sugary snow and none of it seemed to matter to the Italian triple medal winner.

When you're hot, you're hot.

Innerhofer seemed oblivious to the conditions or surface and eked out a .01 of a second margin over Felix Neureuther. American Ted Ligety was fourth matching his career best Cup result in the discipline from 2006—the same year he won the gold medal in combined at the Olympics.

Ligety said he was pleased with his super G leg, but felt he could have done more with the slalom course, set by U.S. coach Mike Kenney. "I didn't feel like I had the greatest slalom in the world, but by super G run was pretty good. It was a pretty GS friendly super G hill, so that worked out well for me," said Ligety.

Ivica Kostelic, the winner of the other three combineds this season and already the title winner, was fifth.

With 1,294 points, Kostelic now appears to have clear sailing to the overall title as his three top competitors didn't play. Didier Cuche (725 points) had thumb surgery last week and Silvan Zurbriggen (703) was also a no-show. There was no reported injury but he did fail to finish the last race at World Championships, the slalom. Askel Lund Svindal (713) also elected not to travel to Bansko.

The top American Ted Ligety (528) is in ninth place and still leads the giant slalom standings by 26 points over Svindal, 323-197.

Meanwhile, Mario Matt is all the way back. At a World Cup slalom in Bansko Sunday, the Austrian registered his first trip to the top step of a World Cup podium since 2009. Not bad for a guy kicked off the team for poor performance.

A couple of injuries gave the 31- year-old two-time World slalom champion (2001 and 2007) another shot at Cup action in time to catch the end of the January string of slalom races, picking off top 10 finishes at Adelboden, Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

At World Championships he was fourth. And in Bulgaria last weekend he won his 13th World Cup race.

Matt led after the first run and maintained composure to post the win over teammate Reinfried Herbst by .04 seconds. Freshly crowned World slalom champion Jean-Baptiste Grange was third, gaining ground on Cup slalom leader Ivica Kostelic, a first run casualty.

With two slaloms remaining, at Kranjska Gora, Slovenia March 6 and at Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland March 19, Grange trails Kostelic by 36 points in the standings.

Canadian Michael Janyk was fifth marking the ninth time in his career he has placed fifth or better in a Cup slalom. He is just the third Canadian to score that many top fives in slalom.

Like Matt, Nolan Kasper was also enjoying being among the top 30 starters, a new experience for him on World Cup. He responded with a career best 10th-place result.

Kasper said it was just a good day.

"It was sunny and the snow was a lot better than I thought it would be. I had a better start than I've had in the past because I was in the top 30 today. It was a pretty easy hill and course so you really had to be gunning from the get go. I just tried to make a little mistakes as possible and go fast."

Ligety finished 17th, his third best slalom finish of the season.

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