Petra Vlhova beats U.S. skier Paula Moltzan to win third World Cup race in six days

LECH-ZUERS, Austria -- Petra Vlhova won her third World Cup race in six days Thursday, beating unheralded Paula Moltzan of the United States in a floodlit parallel event.

Coming off two straight slalom wins in Finland last weekend, Vlhova won the first run of the final against Moltzan by 0.21 seconds. The American seemed to have made up the deficit in the deciding run on the faster blue course but crashed four gates short of the finish.

It was the American's first career World Cup podium, coming less than six weeks after she earned her first top-10 at the season-opening giant slalom in Austria.

Vlhova extended her lead in the overall standings. The World Cup slalom champion from Slovakia has been on the podium in all four races so far, having finished third in the season-opening giant slalom in October.

Former overall champion Lara Gut-Behrami, who was the fastest in qualification, finished third after beating Sara Hector in the small final.

Mikaela Shiffrin, who returned from her 10-month break from racing with second and fifth-place finishes in Finland last weekend, skipped the event.

The three-time overall champion preferred to train for upcoming super-G races and giant slaloms. Limited in her options by the coronavirus pandemic and a back injury, Shiffrin had trained for only slalom recently.

In the absence of her teammate with 66 World Cup wins, Moltzan came close to her first.

Moltzan grew up in Minnesota and trained on the same slope, Buck Hill, as retired standout Lindsey Vonn a decade earlier. She earned her first World Cup points in 2015 but was later dropped off the team. She went to the University of Vermont in 2017 but rejoined the World Cup in 2018-19 after two years away.

Thursday's event had a knockout format and saw two competitors race side-by-side on identical, shortened giant slalom courses, with run times just over 23 seconds.

All rounds were contested over two legs, with skiers having one run on each course and the shortest aggregate time determining the winner.

To keep the event within a TV-friendly time frame, only 16 starters were allowed. Some of the prerace favorites, including Wendy Holdener, Alice Robinson, Sofia Goggia and Tessa Worley, were eliminated in the qualification runs.

Kristina Riis-Johannessen posted the fastest time in the first qualifying run but failed to finish her second, while Moltzan qualified in fifth.

Michelle Gisin, who was runner-up to Vlhova in the overall standings, opted not to race to focus on training, with two super-G races in St. Moritz in her native Switzerland coming up Dec. 5-6.