VAL D'ISERE, France (AP) — World Cup leader Tina Wierather of Liechtenstein protected her lead from the first run to win the first giant slalom race of her career on Sunday, her second victory of the season and third of her fast-improving career.
"Today was a very great day for me. It was always my dream to be good in GS," Wierather said. "I took quite a long time to get there. It feels awesome to have my first win (in GS)." Wierather leads overall with 595 points from Lara Gut (568), who finished second, and Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany (535).
"It's cool to have the chance to fight for it. It's the first time I've been so consistent. But it's only December so I'm not thinking about that," Wierather said. "It's just that I've been healthy for some years now and I could improve a little bit every summer. I feel very strong and feel ready for more than just downhill, but also super-G and GS."
Julia Mancuso of the United States did not finish the second run. After winning a super-G race at St. Moritz last weekend, the 24-year-old Wierather secured her third career win and 13th podium finish with an overall time of 2 minutes, 24.10 seconds.
"It's a process of many years. I tried to improve my technique, my physical performance. It's like a big puzzle and at the moment it looks like it is working," Wierather said. "I used to play tennis until I was 12. I never liked this battle. In skiing it's you against the hill and you see the time. You just fight the hill and not the other girls. That's what I like about ski racing."
Wierather was 0.75 seconds clear of Gut, who was third after the first run, and 0.95 ahead of Sweden's Maria Pietilae-Holmner, who had been second. Italian Federica Brignone was fourth, ahead of the former World Cup winner Hoefl-Riesch.
Gut has four World Cup wins this season, and five podiums, but had failed to finish the last two GS races. "It's always fun to be on the podium and to make points," the 22-year-old said. "But I was skiing good even in Beaver Creek and St. Moritz before going off course."
Pietilae-Holmner, the GS runner-up at the 2007 worlds, secured her first World Cup podium in GS. "It's a perfect Christmas present," the 27-year-old said. "I had two seasons with both knee injury and shoulder injury. I'm back without injury so I can put the energy in the right things."
World slalom champion Mikaela Shiffrin was eighth, improving from her 12th-place finish in slalom at Courchevel on Tuesday. The previous weekend, the 18-year-old had failed to finish another GS in the Swiss resort of St. Moritz.
"I was really tired coming from the U.S. to here (Europe). I had to rethink how I was doing things, getting my recoveries and stuff," Shiffrin said. "Before this race I actually got some rest and I felt a lot better today, which means that I just have to ski faster. I'm happy with the top 10."
She thought that she could have done better, however, with more preparation. "I think the first run was a little bit straighter than I thought it would be from looking at it on inspection. It's a lesson for next time," she said. "I have to be able to see it's a little straighter so I can go, because some of the other girls hammered it and they were really fast, and that's where I lost some time."
Defending overall champion Tina Maze, who was second in Saturday's downhill, improved in her second run to finish 11th. The Slovenian is still looking for her first win of the season and says she feels mentally tired.
"Maybe it's the result of the progam I have. Since St. Moritz every day I'm in ski boots, skiing and training and it's tough to be in shape every day and to concentrate 100 percent," she said. "I really need two days' break now, just to relax a little bit. I think it's pretty tiring when you're going up and down and fighting every day to be positive."
The 30-year-old Maze looked set for a competitive time but almost fell on her first run. "I was skiing really good so I'm excited about my skiing, but with that mistake it was just too hard to come in front and be relaxed in the second run," she said. "I was attacking too much and on this snow when you push too much it's not a good idea."