Europeans own Aspen GS podium |

Europeans own Aspen GS podium

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” Denise Karbon was seconds away from a near wire-to-wire victory.

The Italian skier, the second out of the start gate in Saturday’s Aspen Winternational giant slalom on Aspen Mountain, posted a first-run time that none of the 59 skiers to follow could top. After charging ahead by .71 seconds at the first split in the second run, she seemed poised to capture victory as she sped toward the finish area amidst the roars of a packed grandstand.

Then came a slight bobble a few gates from the finish line. She lost her balance, spun awkwardly and tumbled to the snow.

Moments after skiing across the finish in 15th, the Jumbotron captured an image of the 28-year-old on her back with two gloved hands covering her face. Nearby, a small French contingent erupted.

Tessa Worley, a soft-spoken relative unknown, had all but been handed the victory. It’s one ” her first in 13 World Cup starts ” the 19-year-old will gladly take.

“I was thinking second would be really good,” Worley said. “I couldn’t really believe it. I was first. No, this did not happen.”

Worley, whose previous-best result was a fifth in GS in Soelden, Austria, in October 2007, covered the Lower Ruthies Run course in a combined two-run time of 2 minutes, 12.86 seconds. Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen was second, .28 seconds off the pace. Austria’s Elisabeth Goergl (2:13.57) finished third, while reigning World Cup overall champion Lindsey Vonn wound up fourth.

American teammates Julia Mancuso and Sarah Schleper finished seventh and 13th, respectively, on a day replete with heavy snow and poor visibility that derailed a large group of competitors. Sixteen racers did not finish their first run, a group that included Austria’s Nicole Hosp, who has 43 World Cup podiums.

Two other racers ” Italy’s Chiara Costazza and Spain’s Maria Jose Rienda, the 2005 GS winner here ” were carted off the course in toboggans after crashes. Rienda reportedly broke her ankle.

Worley was sixth after the first run, .8 seconds off Karbon’s pace. She admitted she never pondered winning as she stood in the gates before her second run.

“I was trying not to be stressed,” she said. “I was thinking fifth or 10th [would] be good.”

Worley exceeded expectations. She laid down a near-flawless second run to vault into first place. In the process, she spoiled a potential dream finish for the home team.

Moments earlier, Mancuso jumped out to a .32-second lead after the first split and was one of only a few racers to gain time on a technical bottom section as she seized first place. Vonn, the next racer out the gate, overcame a few bobbles and some loose skiing to supplant her teammate ” much to the delight of the “Vonntourage.”

The U.S.’s grip on the top two spots lasted no more than a minute, however, as Worley followed with the fastest second run of the day.

Americans have not reached the podium here since 2004.

“I made the top 10 so I’m psyched,” said Mancuso, who was seventh in GS here in 2006. “I had two really clean runs. I just didn’t risk enough to get on the podium.”

Vonn labeled her fourth-place finish in downhill in last year’s Winternational “about as bad as it can be.” She was decidedly more upbeat about Saturday’s finish, especially given that she was on crutches six days earlier. The 24-year-old, who bruised her left knee in a training fall last week, said Friday that she might have skipped the GS had the race been on foreign soil.

She didn’t, and wound up logging her best GS result ever ” and a second top 10 in as many races in a discipline that has traditionally been one of her weakest.

So much for being nervous after training GS just once since the season opener in Soelden, Austria, in late October. So much for knee trouble.

“I kept fighting and that’s what counts,” the Vail skier said. “My knee held up OK. It’s still on my leg, so that’s a good sign.

“I just try to work every day and get better. This isn’t so bad. … This is a great way to keep the momentum moving.”

Poutiainen kept her momentum going here. The 28-year-old won both slalom and GS in 2004, and in the four years since has finished second in GS twice and slalom once.

She’ll be among favorites in Sunday’s slalom.

“It feels almost like coming home here,” Poutiainen said. “I know this place and I always have a good race here so that brings confidence.”

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