By Patrick Lang
LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Austrian Anna Fenninger clocked the 16th fastest time of the women's and men's fields combined in World Cup downhill training on Tuesday.
Fenninger, who will battle it out with Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch for the overall women's World Cup title in the Swiss resort this week, was timed at one minute 33.01 seconds.
She was quicker than 10 male skiers who made the run, including downhill specialists such as World Cup winner Aksel Lund Svindal, Austrian Klaus Kroell and Olympic silver medalist Christof Innerhofer of Italy.
While the result was not significant - and noting that skiers often slow down towards the finish of training sessions to conserve energy - it showed how motivated Fenninger is after winning the Super-G gold medal at the Winter Olympics as well as three World Cup giant slaloms in succession.
The 24-year-old from Salzburg also complained to men's World Cup director Gunter Hujara, who is in charge of the women's competition, that he was treating the women too cautiously.
Hujara has ordered the women to wear race outfits that slow them down and mitigate against the risk of accident.
"It was a strange decision," Fenninger said after finishing one and a half seconds slower than the fastest man on the day, France's Adrien Theaux.
"I'm afraid Mr. Hujara is underestimating our level. He doesn't seem aware of our capacities and yet he used to coach the German women's (team)."
Men and women are competing on the same Silvano Beltrametti piste in Lenzerheide this week.
Two seasons ago the American Lindsey Vonn asked to be allowed to race with the men at Beaver Creek, Colorado, but her plea was rejected by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
"Obviously it's fun to have skied faster than a number of men today, but it doesn't mean much, for things will be different on race day," Fenninger said.
"For me, it was above all important to feel well on a very demanding course, which looks a bit like a Super-G course."
Fenninger is second in the World Cup overall standings, 29 points behind Hoefl-Riesch.
She has finished first or second in the last five races she entered and is in splendid form, while Hoefl-Riesch missed the downhill practice on Tuesday with a bad cold.
"I achieved great performances in three disciplines this season and I'm really excited to battle it out for the overall World Cup victory until the finish," Fenninger said.
"I didn't expect to be in this position in the beginning of the season and it's really exciting. I feel in great condition, both physically and mentally, I enjoy myself and I don't feel tired at all, which doesn't seem to be the case of my rivals.
"I still hope that Maria will feel better for tomorrow's downhill because it would be regrettable for her to lose because of health problems."
The technical profile of the Beltrametti piste could see Fenninger win three of the four races until the end of the week. It seems trickier for Hoefl-Riesch, who won the 2011 big globe by beating Vonn by three points after two of the events in the World Cup finals were cancelled because of bad weather.
Fenninger is also in contention for the individual titles in the downhill, the super-G and the giant slalom alongside Hoefl-Riesch, Swiss Lara Gut and Swede Jessica Lindell-Vikarby respectively.
World Cup holder Tina Maze, who saved her season by winning the Olympic downhill and giant slalom golds in Sochi, is too far adrift in fourth place overall to stand a realistic chance of defending her title.
The Slovenian was, however, happy to see Fenninger upstage her male counterparts in practice.
"It's really funny," she said. "I'm sure some men must feel really bad about it."
(Editing by Stephen Wood) nL3N0M8466