Maier Wins Season-Opening Giant Slalom

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Tignes, France Nov. 1 (AP by Erica Bulman)--After losing his World Cup overall title to Lasse Kjus last season, Hermann Maier wasted no time trying to win it back.

The Austrian, who lost to Kjus in the season finale, got the inside track on recapturing his title with a victory in the season's inaugural giant slalom.

``This was a good start to the season for me,'' said Maier, who also won last year's opening race. ``It was important not only because of the win, but because of the way I skied and the way I felt.

``I felt no pain in my back,'' said the former bricklayer, who attributed his loss last year to ongoing back trouble. ``I plan to start slowly and build up a lot of steam.''

Maier got 100 points for the win, while a mistake in the opening leg left Kjus empty-handed.

But for Kjus, slowly coming back from a knee injury that occurred in July, the setback was little more than a bump in the road.

Kjus, who has won 13 World Cup races, managed to outperform the rest of the field last year despite constantly nursing fragile lungs and repeated chest infections. He won the World Cup overall crystal globe, the season's World Cup downhill and combined titles, and a record five medals at the worlds in Vail.

``I'm not too worried about what happened,'' Kjus said. ``I knew I wasn't in perfect shape and expected a slow start to the season.''

Four Austrians placed in the top six in Sunday's competition. Reigning World Cup giant slalom champion Michael Von Gruenigen was second. Kjetil Andre of Norway shared third with Stephan Eberharter, another Austrian.

``The first race is always important because you get to see where you stand with the other skiers,'' said Maier, who won the overall title in 1997-98, his rookie season on the circuit. ``You get to see if the others are in good shape or not. I see we Austrians are not so bad at this moment.''

Maier readjusted his training after last season's disappointment.

``I did too much stationary bike over the past few years,'' explained Maier. ``And if my thighs have gotten thicker and stronger, they've lost speed. It's important for your training to evolve. So now I'm working on my explosive strength.''

The Austrian team called upon the expertise of Dutch fitness specialist Henk Krainhoff over the summer.

``He came to give us some advice,'' Maier said. ``He's fine-tuning a program and some equipment for us to help us develop explosive strength. If the program turns out to be fruitful we may carry on with it but for now it's too soon to tell.''

Hans Pum, Austrian alpine director, said he expects the team to dominate this year.

``Our men had 57 podium finishes last season and now we're aiming to win a 10th consecutive Nations' Cup,'' Pum said. ``We want to win as many crystal cups as possible in the individual disciplines and we also want to win the men's overall World Cup.''

Copyright (c) 1999 The Associated Press