By Mark Lamport-Stokes
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - Gold medal favorite Tina Maze once again showed her liking for the plunging Raptor racecourse as she posted the fastest time in the downhill portion of the alpine ski world championship women's combined on Monday.
The in-form Slovenian, who was already collected gold in the downhill and silver in the Super-G at Beaver Creek, clocked a time of one minute, 45.25 seconds down the sun-bathed piste to take the advantage into the afternoon slalom.
Swiss speed specialist Lara Gut was second fastest, a wafer-thin 0.02 seconds back, with 2011 world champion Anna Fenninger of Austria third best, after a time of 1:45.51.
American speed queen Lindsey Vonn, who considers herself a long shot for the title after being denied gold in her best two events last week, was in seventh place, 1.31 seconds off the pace.
"Wow, I did not have a good feeling out there this morning," Vonn, who won Super-G and downhill gold at the 2009 world championships in Val d'Isere, tweeted. "The ice is brutal on the body/knee. Will do my best in the slalom this pm!"
Though some of the best technical skiers will mount their charge in the afternoon leg, World Cup leader Maze is in good position to go one better than her silver in the combined at the 2011 and 2013 worlds.
Aged 31, the ever-smiling Slovenian is seeking her ninth career medal at the worlds where she has already mined gold on three occasions.
The combined event adds times from the downhill and slalom to determine a winner.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)