CORTINA D'AMPEZZO (Italy) (AFP) - Maria Hoefl-Riesch edged Tina Maze by the slimmest of margins to top the first of two downhill training sessions for the women's Cortina World Cup downhill on Thursday.
Germany's Hoefl-Riesch, one of the gold medal contenders for the event at the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi, completed the 2.66 km long Tofane course in a time of 1min 39.31sec.
Slovenia's Maze, last season's overall World Cup champion, finished second at just .01sec behind with Austraian Anna Fenninger in third at 0.69 adrift of Hoefl-Riesch.
Lindsay Vonn, who won the downhill here last year ahead of Maze, is the big-name absentee after being sidelined recently with knee problems which have ruled her out of the Olympic Games.
American compatriot Julia Mancuso finished eighth best Wednesday in a time of 1:40.62, although the 2010 Olympic silver medallist has failed to podium all season in a downhill.
A second downhill training session is scheduled for Friday morning, when Hoefl-Riesch is hoping for more perfect racing conditions ahead of attacking the Tofane -- where she won in 2011 -- with victory in mind on Saturday.
"I like the place here and really appreciate the downhill course," the German told reporters.
"For a first training, it was pretty good. I found a good line. My skis are fast, I managed to carry some speed in all sections of the course.
"The snow isn't so hard, and we have to ski smooth, to be delicate on the edges. I'll try to do the same or even better on Saturday."
The weekend concludes with a women's super-G on Sunday although the field will remain in Cortina all week after a decision by officials to stage next weekend's World Cup, initially set for Garmisch, at the Italian Dolomite resort due to a lack of snow at the German venue.