Tina Maze wins Soelden opener; Kristina Koznick 17th for U.S.


Tina Maze wins Soelden opener; Kristina Koznick 17th for U.S.Tina Maze of Slovenia won the first race of the new alpine World Cup season Saturday, beating out Janica Kostelic of Croatia by 0.34 seconds in the giant slalom at Soelden, Austria. Anja Paerson of Sweden, who won last year’s race here, finished third.

The Slovenian, who was tied for second place after the first run, had a two-run combined time of 2 minutes, 24.59 seconds.

As the winner of last year’s giant slalom discipline title, Tanja Poutiainen of Finland got to wear the red bib reserved for leaders of the standings. She won the first run by 0.47 seconds, but had problems with her left ski on the second run. She finished 11th.

How the Americans did
Genevieve Simard of Canada placed ninth in 2:26.94, while Kristina Koznick was the fastest U.S. skier, crossing in 17th place, 3.06 off the pace. Julia Mancuso was the only American besides Koznick to qualify for the second run; she finished 21st at the end of the day.

“I’ve been training really well, and I wasn’t quite prepared for the snow,” said Mancuso. “It was a lot harder than we’ve trained on. And I’ve been skiing on a really aggressive set up…my skis are a little more straight. My bindings and plate are stiffer. It worked well in soft snow.”

Mancuso raced wearing a white helmet and goggles from the Swedish company POC, a new sponsor of the U.S. Ski Team. “They’re new, so it’s nice to be involved,” she said.

Resi Stiegler and Sarah Schleper did not start because of a bruised shin and a sore back, respectively. (Read more about that below.)

Lindsey Kildow had an unbalanced first run after breaking her pole on the fourth gate.

Stacey Cook had the highest start position of any American, wearing bib 63 in her first World Cup giant slalom. “There were a lot of chatters,” she said after failing to qualify for the second run. “It was icier than it was during inspection. The top girls had skied all the soft snow off.”

The first race, and the first GS
This was the first of nine giant slaloms on the 2005-06 women’s World Cup calendar. The others are at Aspen, Colorado (Dec. 10); Spindlruv Mlyn, Czech Republic (Dec. 21); Lienz, Austria (Dec. 28); Maribor, Slovenia (Jan. 7); Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy (Jan. 27); Ofterschwang, Germany (Feb. 4); Hafjell, Norway (March 5) and Are, Sweden (at the Finals, March 18).

Schleper and Stiegler are DNS
Sarah Schleper, who had back surgery this summer, pulled out of the race before it started because of soreness in her back. She wasn’t at the finish line during the race, but her teammate Resi Stiegler was. Stiegler chose not to start because of shin bruising. ‘It hurts just standing here’ said Stiegler, who had hoped for a top-15 finish. ‘I didn’t break my bone, but I tried to put it in a boot this morning and it killed. I’m going to go home and rest for a bit.’ Stiegler showed off her wrist, which was lined with magic-marker ink where, Stiegler said, the witch doctor had aimed the acupuncture needles. ‘I went to a witch doctor in Soelden’ said Stiegler. ‘She was off in the woods, and she gave me acupuncture. It didn’t work.’ Stiegler, 19, said the alternative-medicine specialist was someone known by Patrick Riml, Stiegler’s coach and a Soelden local.

The Fischer boot is expanding
Fischer’s ski boot, a relatively new product on the World Cup, has found its way onto the feet of another World Cup woman. Alexandra Meissnitzer of Austria is wearing the boot this year, joining Niki Hosp of Austria and Jonna Mendes.

‘The difference is big’ said Meissnitzer, who has won 13 World Cups since 1996. ‘I liked them right away. I had troubles to get the ski on edge early in the turn before, and this helps.’ Meissnitzer did not finish the first run.

Riesch is back
Maria Riesch, the extremely talented but often injured German skier, is back to 100 percent. The ACL tear in her right knee, incurred last January, is ‘totally OK’ she told Ski Racing. And the bone bruise to the top of her tibia, which kept her out for three weeks this fall, is better. ‘The bone bruise from her training in New Zealand turned out as less heavy than first feared’ said her coach, Wolfgang Maier, who announced that he will be leaving the coaching ranks after this season to take a position within the German ski federation. Tomorrow, the German men’s team will have only one racer qualified to compete in the race: the young Felix Neureuter, whose parents were World Cup racers.

The next generation
It was the first World Cup ever for Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, who started 71st and didn’t qualify for the second run. Weirather is the daughter of two World Cup legends. Her father is Harti Weirather of Austria, who won six World Cup races in the early 1980s, and her mother is Hanni Wenzel, who won 33 races in the 1970s and 1980s. She is a student at Stams Ski Gymnasium in Austria, not far from Soelden.

Prize money
A total of $78,217 dollars was awarded to the top 10 racers here, the same amount that is distributed to the men on Sunday. Maze received $27,463, Kostelic won $17,910 and Paerson takes home $11,703

Men’s team looking forward to Sunday
Aside from Bode Miller, who won this race last year and the year before, the first GS of the year has historically been a bust for the U.S. men’s team.

‘Soelden is usually the total mystery tour’ said U.S. men’s head coach Phil McNichol. ‘We haven’t had a tremendous amount of success outside of Bode, but based on how the guys are training, I’d anticipate a good showing.’

Seven men have qualified to start in tomorrow’s race: Miller, Daron Rahlves, Dane Spencer, Erik Schlopy, Jimmy Cochran, Tom Rothrock and Ted Ligety. The last two qualified in a time trial last week.

According to McNichol, Ligety showed particular strength in giant slalom during the American team’s training in September in Chile.

McNichol also said Daron Rahlves could be the ‘big surprise’ of the race. Rahlves was competitive with Miller the team’s August camp in New Zealand. ‘My prediction would be to have Daron pick up right where he left off in his summer training, so he could be the big surprise.’

Daron Rahlves told Ski Racing that his goal is not the overall title, but that he would like to win downhill discipline title that has eluded him in recent years, and would like to win in three disciplines this year: DH, SG and GS. He also said he’ll have an even bigger bus to travel the World Cup starting December.

Poutiainen leads after one run; Koznick and Mancuso make cutSoelden opener: An early season tradition

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