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US skier Shiffrin leads overall champion Fenninger in 1st run of season-opening World Cup GS

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SOELDEN, Austria — American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin had the fastest first run in the season-opening women's World Cup giant slalom on Saturday, underlining her ambition to start winning races in the discipline.

Shiffrin is the Olympic and world champion in slalom but has yet to win a GS. Her best finish was second in Beaver Creek, Colorado, last December.

Shiffrin came down the Rettenbach glacier in 1 minute, 17.93 seconds to lead defending overall champion Anna Fenninger of Austria by 0.09. World champion Tessa Worley of France, competing in her first race in 10 months after a right knee injury, was 0.42 behind Shiffrin in third.

"Soelden is always like a see-where-I-am kind of race," Shiffrin said. "I have bittersweet feelings about this right now because I am in the lead but there is always some fast girls that come from the back of the pack."

Fenninger, Worley and three other racers were faster than Shiffrin at the first split and Fenninger still led the American by 0.35 at the second, but nobody matched Shiffrin's speed on the bottom part.

"On the bottom I kind of pulled it together in time to make up some speed on the flats," Shiffrin said. "I got to the comfort level of just letting my skis take me instead of pushing so hard."

PHOTO: Skiracer Mikaela Shiffrin of the US smiles during the FIS annual Alpine Forum at the alpine skiing World Cup in Soelden, Austria, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. The alpine skiing World Cup season 2014/2015 will be opened on Oct. 25, 2014 in Soelden. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott)
Skiracer Mikaela Shiffrin of the US smiles during the FIS annual Alpine Forum at the alpine skiing World Cup in Soelden, Austria, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. The alpine skiing World Cup season 2014/2015 will be opened on Oct. 25, 2014 in Soelden. (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott)

Fenninger said she was pleased with her position.

"My feeling wasn't great so I can't believe it was actually pretty fast," the Austrian said. "I was too direct at the bottom and caught a bump. But second position is OK."

Many of the favorites struggled in the difficult conditions. Up to 70 centimeters of fresh snow had to be moved off the piste in the last two days, with crews of up to 500 people working day and night.

Under cloudy skies and on a bumpy course, only 48 of 69 starters made it to the finish.

Lara Gut of Switzerland, who won here last year, was 0.85 behind in fifth and Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather, in the running for the overall title last season until getting injured at the Sochi Olympics, finished 1.96 off the lead.

Former world GS champion Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany was over two seconds behind, while 2013 overall champion Tina Maze of Slovenia trailed Shiffrin by a massive 3.97 seconds.

Shiffrin's teammate Julia Mancuso, the 2006 Olympic GS champion, was a late starter in 47th after lacking results in the discipline in recent seasons. Mancuso finished just over four seconds behind but managed to qualify for the second run.

Sarah Schleper, who aims to compete for Mexico at the world championships in Vail and Beaver Creek in February, made her return to the World Cup at age 35, three years after retiring. She finished 10.87 seconds off the lead.

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