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Ligety fastest in first run of season-opening giant slalom

SOELDEN, Austria — Aksel Lund Svindal began defense of his World Cup overall and giant slalom titles with a victory on Sunday at the season-opening race on the Rettenbach glacier.

Svindal delivered the fastest final run to make up a 1.17-second deficit from the opening leg and won with a combined time of 2 minutes, 17.87 seconds.

"I worked harder this summer than ever before. I spent more time on skis and more time in the gym than I ever did," Svindal said. "I pushed all that work into one race situation. This has given a massive confidence boost at the start of the season."

Olympic combined champion Ted Ligety led after the first leg of a World Cup race for the first time, which meant he was also the last one out of the start hut for his final run. Despite a strong performance, he finished 0.32 seconds behind the big Norwegian.

"To be the last guy in the start hut in the second run was new to me and I had to control my nerves," he said. "Now I know what it's like. I'll take more risk next time."

Kalle Palander of Finland placed third, 0.39 seconds back, while Benjamin Raich was fourth in 2:18.53.

"This reignited the fire in my belly," said Palander, whose last podium was in December at a giant slalom at Hinterstoder, Austria.

In his first race independent of the U.S. ski team, Bode Miller posted the second-fastest final run to vault from 17th into fifth with a combined time of 2:18.93. Miller's time in the second leg was all the more impressive considering a major mistake he made after coming over the breakover, when he made two wide turns.

"I was struggling to get a feel for the snow first run. We warmed up on completely different snow," said Miller, who is recovering from a back injury. "I'm pretty satisfied with my race today. Second run I was able to recover from my mistake. There were two sections I was particularly happy with, where I felt I had good rhythm."

Hermann Maier, who left longtime supplier Atomic to join Miller on Head skis in the offseason, finished in 20th place. Maier won the last giant slalom on this course in 2005. Last year's season-opening races in Soelden were canceled due to heavy rain.

U.S. veterans Erik Schlopy and Dane Spencer failed to finish among the top 30 to qualify for the second run. Schlopy is coming back after damaging knee cartilage last midseason, while Spencer is returning from a life-threatening crash in a lower-tier NorAm downhill race in 2006 when he ripped apart his pelvis and snapped his neck.