ARE, Sweden (Reuters) - World champion Anna Fenninger maintained her furious end-of-season pace to edge closer to her second successive World Cup title after winning a giant slalom in Are on Friday.
The 25-year-old Austrian clocked a combined time of two minutes and 24.20 seconds in the only floodlit giant slalom of the season to collect a sixth victory in eight races, a run which included a gold medal run in the discipline in last month's world championships in Beaver Creek.
She also claimed the overall World Cup lead for the first time this season by overtaking Tina Maze, who could only manage a lowly 20th place on the Swedish course.
Fenninger now leads her Slovenian rival by 45 points before the World Cup finals next week in Meribel, a gap Maze will be eager to narrow in Saturday’s slalom on the same piste.
“I don't know how I can explain such a run of podium places. The only thing I know is that I want to keep it up,” Fenninger said.
Italian Nadia Fanchini was second, 0.71 seconds behind, while Eva-Maria Brem finished third.
Brem lies 86 points behind the reigning World Cup champion in the giant slalom standings. “It's like deja vu. Like last season,” Fenninger said about her sensational return from the doldrums to the top within a month.
“I'm not doing the slalom tomorrow, I'm going straight to the finals. I think Tina will take the lead back tomorrow and we'll see how it goes in Meribel,” she added.
“It's fun to fight against such a great athlete as Tina. But it's also very hard. I really thought after my bad start to the season that I had no chance. My only chance is when Tina makes mistakes.”
(Reporting by Manuele Lang, writing by Francois Thomazeau, editing by Pritha Sarkar)