VAL D'ISERE, France — Lindsey Vonn won her first downhill race of the season Saturday to close the gap on overall World Cup leader Maria Riesch, who finished 24th.
The three-time defending World Cup and reigning Olympic downhill champion had finished second behind her German rival in both downhills at Lake Louise two weeks ago. But Vonn turned the tables at Val d'Isere, one of her favorite stops.
Despite a wobble near the top section of the 1.7-mile Oreiller-Killy course, Vonn finished in a time of 1 minute, 51.42 seconds.
"I love Val d'Isere, I've always had a good feeling here. It's great to have another victory," said Vonn, who won a downhill-Super-G world championship double and World Cup super combined race last year.
She also won World Cup downhill races here in 2005 and 2006.
This time, she made a spectacular recovery after nearly crashing on the turn just below the second jump. Vonn feared that slip would cost her, but Riesch fared much worse than expected.
"I made a big mistake at the top but I tried to make up time on the bottom, and I think I skied pretty well on the turns," Vonn said. "At the finish I thought it was a good time, but for sure Maria would beat me."
Vonn's win moves her to the top of the downhill standings ahead of Riesch, who leads Vonn by 52 points in the overall standings before Sunday's super combined race.
Swiss pair Nadja Kamer and Lara Gut were second and third, respectively.
Vonn was .001 behind Kamer at the second time split, but picked up speed on the second part of the course to beat her by 0.68 seconds and the 19-year-old Gut by 0.80.
Riesch started poorly in soft conditions and kept losing time to Vonn, finishing 2.28 seconds back. She was 1.09 behind Vonn on the first time split, then 1.10 and 1.95. Moments after crossing the line, Riesch looked startled, shrugged her shoulders and bowed her head.
Vonn expected a better performance from her friend.
"I was definitely surprised," Vonn said.
Vonn's goals this season include breaking the American single-season record of 11 wins she set last year. She's aiming for the all-time record of 14 victories established by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in 1988-89.
"I feel like my confidence is at a great place right now," Vonn said. "I feel like all my events are pretty good."
Elisabeth Goergl of Austria finished fourth, with French veteran Ingrid Jacquemod tied for fifth with Johanna Schnarf of Italy.
The clear blue skies and bright sunshine were a stark contrast to Friday's weather when the super-G race – already postponed last weekend at the Swiss resort of St. Moritz – was called off because of heavy snowfall and almost no visibility.
Andrea Dettling was one of the first down on Saturday and crashed near the top section, flying sideways into the netting. But the Swiss skier got back up on her feet after a few seconds without assistance and appeared unharmed.
Gut was sidelined more than a year after dislocated a hip in a training crash.
She was suspended for two World Cup races this week by the Swiss ski federation for criticizing head coach and former mentor Mauro Pini in interviews. She will miss giant slalom and slalom races Dec. 28-29 in Semmering, Austria.
"I am just trying to give my best and not thinking about what I should say to the newspapers or what I shouldn't say," Gut said. "I'm just skiing for me."
Gut trains away from the national team with a privately funded group of coaches and staff, including her father Pauli.