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Zettel wins Aspen slalom to end drought

By Manuele Lang

ASPEN, Colorado (Reuters) - Kathrin Zettel clinched her first World Cup victory in nearly three years as the Colorado magic worked wonders again for the Austrian at Aspen on Sunday.

Hampered by hip problems in recent seasons, the withdrawn 26-year-old left her woes behind her to win the slalom event in a combined time of one minute and 42.46 seconds on arguably her favorite piste on the World Cup circuit.

"It's so wonderful, I can't believe it. It's only my second victory in a slalom. I don't know what's so special about Aspen, ever since I came here I had great results, my first podium, my first victory," she said.

Zettel's first medal spot was in 2005 and her first victory was in a giant slalom a year later.

Sunday's win, her ninth since her World Cup debut, was all the more special as it came ahead of compatriot Marlies Schild, the undisputed queen of the discipline.

"It means a lot to be on the podium with Marlies and to beat her. Nothing personal but it doesn't happen often. She's the absolute reference for all of us," said Zettel, whose last victory dated back to January 2010 in Maribor.

By 0.67 seconds, Schild again failed to equal the record number of World Cup slalom wins held by Swiss Vreni Schneider.

But the world champion was relieved to be back on the podium after failing to score points so far this season.

"I'm not surprised about Kathrin's victory. She now does in the race what she does in training. For me, it's important to be back on the podium because the Aspen test is always crucial to know where you stand early in the season," she said.

Third place went to Slovenia's Tina Maze, the overall World Cup leader and winner of the two giant slaloms held this winter, in Soelden and in Aspen on Saturday.

"The only thing that went wrong today was that I was too respectful of this course. Apart from that, I've been on the podium or close to it in every single race. Everything is clicking into place," she said.

Maze now leads the overall World Cup standings with 310 points, ahead of Zettel on 260.

"It's not happening by chance. I've been on the circuit 13 years and we have been working like dogs with my group for the past five years. We deserve what's happening to us," said the Slovenian, who broke with her federation five years ago to launch her own personal training structure.

Maze, who won Saturday's giant slalom, said she was looking forward to the first speed events in Lake Louise next weekend, when she will test her speed and downhill skills on Lindsey Vonn's terrain.

"It'll be a break from technical events and it's fine by me. Mentally and even physically it'll be less demanding on the body because there's only one run instead of two," she said.

World Cup holder Vonn skipped Sunday's slalom to keep recovering from a stomach bug and to better prepare for next weekend when she'll be seeking her 12th victory in Lake Louise.

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

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