A woman can sweep the World Cup ski races at Lake Louise, Alta., yet again, but it’s not Lindsey Vonn on the cusp of a hat trick this time.
Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany won her second downhill in as many days with Saturday’s victory at the Alberta resort. The 29-year-old from Garmisch-Partenkirchen is a contender to win Sunday’s super-G, although downhill is more her strength.
“I’m not as strong in super-G as I am in downhill, but the two races gave me lots of confidence,” Hoefl-Riesch said.
Vonn won all three races at Lake Louise in 2011 and 2012 and owns a record 14 victories at the venue. The U.S. ski star finished 11th Saturday, but felt she took a step forward from Friday’s downhill when she finished 40th.
Prior to her arrival, Vonn hadn’t raced since crashing and suffering a severe right knee injury at the world championship in February.
“I was more aggressive and just more confident and comfortable,” the Olympic women’s downhill champion said. “My whole body language was different. I still made mistakes and it wasn’t my best skiing, but it’s a long ways from where I was yesterday.”
Hoefl-Riesch’s time of one minute 55.09 seconds was over a second faster than in her first win. Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein was second in 1:55.43 and Austria’s Anna Fenninger third in 1:55.56.
Larisa Yurkiw of Owen Sound, Ont., was 26th after a career-best seventh in the first downhill Friday.
“I think because I had such a rocking day yesterday, I was almost a little bit depleted,” Yurkiw said. “I wanted it pretty bad and I had intensity in places I didn’t necessarily need it.
“Anyone would want to repeat a performance like yesterday in front of a home crowd. I’m still really pleased with the way the momentum is going.”
Conditions were clear and sunny, but bitterly cold for a second straight day with a temperature of minus-28.
FIS, the world governing body of skiing, doesn’t set a minimum temperature for races. The decision rests with the race jury made up of the a FIS delegate, race referee and assistant referee and chief of race.
The women wore masks or covered exposed parts of their faces with brightly coloured tape to protect themselves from frostbite as they rocketed down the mountain.
Five of Hoefl-Riesch’s 26 career wins have come at Lake Louise. She took both downhills in 2010 with Vonn finishing second. But Vonn beat Hoefl-Riesch in the super-G that year to kick off a run of seven straight wins.
The women don’t get training runs for super-G, which is shorter than downhill but has more turns. They get a single course inspection the morning of the race.
“I will try to inspect very well and I hope my coaches will tell me a really good line,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “Super-G is always a big challenge to be fast because sometimes you can’t really know how fast you get to the rolls and turns.
“That’s the art of super-G, to make a very good first run and I will try this tomorrow.”
The six-foot-two German felt short on speed training heading into the World Cup season. She concentrated more on slalom and giant slalom in preparation for World Cups in Soelden, Austria and Levi, Finland.
Hoefl-Riesch is the reigning Olympic champion in slalom. She finished seventh in downhill and eighth in super-G in Beaver Creek, Colo., last week.
“With less downhill and super-G training, I was having some troubles there,” Hoefl-Riesch said. “That’s why I love Lake Louise. I think it’s a perfect downhill to begin the season especially when you don’t have the chance for so much training.
“I’m really happy I had a strong comeback here with two wins.”
Weirather was disqualified from fifth place Friday for wearing a plastic arm protector on the outside of her suit, instead of on the inside.
“I had a really bad day yesterday,” Weirather said. “I was skiing well and then I got disqualified so I had some anger in myself. I tried to take it into the start house and put it into my skiing today and it worked really well.”
Vonn tore two ligaments in her knee and broke a bone in her lower leg at the world championships. Her comeback was on track until she partially tore a reconstructed ligament while training in Colorado last month.
The 29-year-old needs surgery again, but wants to postpone it until after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Lake Louise is a first test of how a knee that is not completely healthy will stand up to racing this winter. Vonn wasn’t sure how many World Cups she’ll compete in this season.
“My focus is Sochi and however I can come into the those Olympics the most prepared is what I’m going to do,” Vonn said. “I’m trying to save my knee as best I can.”
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