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Ligety takes massive lead in 1st run of WCup GS

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ERIC WILLEMSEN | October 27, 2013 06:47 AM EST | AP

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SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — Ted Ligety maintained his dominance in giant slalom by taking a massive 0.90-second lead in the first run of the season-opening World Cup race Sunday, while Bode Miller placed 13th upon his return to the circuit following an 20-month injury layoff.

Ligety, who won six of eight races last season and defended his world title in GS, came down the Rettenbach glacier in 1 minute, 0.44 seconds to lead Alexis Pinturault of France.

Overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria was the only other racer to finish within a second of Ligety, trailing the American by 0.98. Markus Sandell of Finland was 1.71 back in fourth.

"I'm definitely surprised by this gap right now," said Ligety, who is looking for his third straight win here and 18th overall. "Less so by the first gap and more so by the second gap after third to fourth. But then again Hirscher and Pinturault are two guys that I knew were going to be the guys that were tough to beat."

Starting third, Ligety demonstrated his flawless technique from top to bottom once more, beating then-leader Pinturault at every split.

"I was clean the whole way," the American said. "I felt good. So hopefully I can do something similar next run. But I don't think it's going to be so easy since it's going to be dark and bumpy. It's always difficult here, second run."

Last year, Ligety won the season opener by 2.75 seconds, the biggest winning margin in GS since the 1970s, and went on to dominate the entire season.

Sunday's lead, however, won't guarantee him a repeat of that outstanding season.

"It's just the first run of one race so far, so I can't take too much into account." Ligety said. "But I like that I'm in the lead by a good amount."

The start was lowered because of fierce winds, shortening the run by about 15 seconds. A race on the full course would likely have given Ligety an even bigger lead.

Pinturault and Hirscher each took one of the two GS races Ligety didn't win last season.

"Ted is still incredibly fast," Hirscher said. "And we've seen good things from Alexis. It's nice to be able to compete with the best in the world. But one second off the lead makes you think."

Miller, who started 32nd, trailed Ligety by 2.33 seconds at the second intermediate time but lost less than half a second more by the finish.

The American standout wasn't happy with his skiing in his first race since February 2012 after sitting out the entire 2012-13 season to let his injured left knee heal.

"Awful, awful, I haven't felt that bad probably since I skied here maybe six years ago and I bounced the whole way down," Miller said. "It's nerves, really. I've been skiing well, I worked really hard, it's been a long time away and I was prepared to go out and win. I know I can ski with Ted. And I was ready to do it."

The shortening of the course didn't help him, said Miller, who won here in 2003 and '04 and came second the next year.

"I usually beat Ted by three or four tenths on the top flat alone," he said. "If you look back on my old races I always win the top split here. It certainly doesn't help me."

Miller said he was excited to be back and his fitness wasn't a problem.

"I wasn't tired at all. I think my fitness is higher now for a World Cup than it's ever been for sure," he said. "It was exciting. I was nervous. I want to win. I definitely have the fire when I get in there. I feel like I have a good skill set ... I think I have the ability now to ski on a whole different level. And I want to do that."