Believing she had no chance of catching the leader, Finland's Tanja Poutiainen charged down the hill without fear.
It worked out well. Poutiainen made up more than a half-second on her second run for her second World Cup victory, edging Sweden's Anja Paerson by .09 seconds in a World Cup giant slalom yesterday.
"At the start of the second run, I really didn't think I'd win today," Poutiainen said. "Full attack was the only way for me to go."
Trailing Croatia's Janica Kostelic by .6 seconds after her first run, Poutiainen didn't hold back on her second at Aspen Mountain. She finished with a two-run total of 2 minutes, 12.49 seconds at the World Cup's only US stop for women, adding the giant slalom title to her win in the slalom last February in Finland.
"I feel very happy about it," said Poutiainen, who finished second to Paerson in the World Cup season opener in Austria on Oct. 23. "It's a big step for me."
Kostelic, a two-time World Cup overall champion who won three gold medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, appeared to be headed toward her first victory in nearly two years with a stellar first run. Fighting through driving snow and choppy conditions, Kostelic finished the first run in 1:05.92 in just her second race in 19 months after having her thyroid gland removed and several knee surgeries.
But with visibility much better and the course running smoother, Kostelic couldn't keep up on the second run with Poutiainen and Paerson. Skiing last on the second run, Kostelic went wide on one of the final turns to finish third overall.
"I'm not in any hurry," Kostelic said. "I just came back and there's a lot of time left."
Paerson appears to have picked up where she left off last year, when she won the giant slalom and slalom season titles. She won the giant slalom in the season opener in Austria last month by .32 seconds and is tied with Poutiainen for the early season overall points lead with 180.
"I really thought I had it, but she [Poutiainen] was skiing great," Paerson said.
Liechtenstein's Jessica Walter had to be taken off the course on a sled on the first run after getting too far inside on one of the gates and hitting her forehead. She tumbled backward after the impact spun her around, and was on the course for several minutes while medical personnel strapped her to the sled.
Walter was taken to a hospital with a knee injury, and was being evaluated.
Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic won the women's 10km freestyle World Cup event Friday from Estonia's Kristina Smigun and Natalia Baranova-Masolkina of Russia.
Neumannova finished in 26 minutes, 58.1 seconds while Smigun, who finished the race strongly, was 1.3 seconds behind. Baranova-Masolkina was 7.8 seconds back.
Norway's Marit Bjorgen, who won the season's first two races -- a sprint and a 10K classic, finished fourth.
This was Bjorgen's best finish in a freestyle race. Her previous best World Cup result was a sixth last year at Beitostolen, Norway.
But it didn't look promising in the early going as Bjorgen only clocked the 11th fastest intermediate time at the 2.3K checkpoint.
"I started slowly, I had a lot of respect for the hard track," Bjorgen said. "But I finished strongly and I'm really happy with fourth place. Fourth feels like a victory."
Bjorgen is the world's most versatile cross country skier. No other male or female skier is as strong as the 24-year-old Norwegian in sprint, classical and freestyle.