SOELDEN, Austria (AP) – Hermann Maier has had many big victories, and he was ecstatic with this one.

The Austrian edged Bode Miller to capture the season-opening giant slalom Sunday and overtake Alberto Tomba for second place on the World Cup victory list.

“This is a big joy for me,” said Maier, who injured his knee while training in New Zealand recently. “I was sitting in second place and watching Bode’s run and I thought to myself second place will be great. Then I saw his time was in red and I knew I had won. I flipped out.”

Maier’s 51st World Cup victory sent him ahead of Italy’s Tomba. Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark leads with 86, all in slalom and giant slalom.

This was Maier’s first World Cup giant slalom win since nearly losing a leg in a motorcycle accident four years ago, although he won the giant slalom world title last year.

“To be on the podium is already a big achievement,” Maier said. “But it’s incredible to win this race.”

The former Olympic and world champion covered the two runs in 2 minutes, 17.60 seconds, rallying from fifth place after the first leg. Miller, the reigning overall champion, won the first leg and finished 0.07 seconds behind the Austrian.

Miller had been leading until halfway down the course, but the New Hampshire skier lost a full second on the bottom section after the sun went behind the clouds for the last four races.

“A little change in the light can make a giant difference in the time,” Miller said. “I had great tactics, but today I made a couple of big mistakes.”

Miller was inspired by the 32-year-old Maier’s performance.

“We expected him to be back in super-G and downhill because it suits his ability a little more now,” Miller said.

Miller’s teammate Ted Ligety began in 64th but finished eighth for his best World Cup giant slalom result. He had the fastest second run.

“When you start 64th there are a lot of big holes,” he said. “I’m definitely psyched by this result.”

Maier, a four-time champion, is the only skier to win four season openers – three times on this course and at Tignes, France, in the 1999-00 season. He had been expected to be fully fit only once the World Cup resumed next month with speed races in North America. The season culminates with the Turin Olympics in February.

“I never thought I could win again here on such a difficult course, which is why it means so much to me,” Maier said. “I was not sure about coming here, how well I’d be skiing and able to handle it.”

Austria’s Rainer Schoenfelder was third in 2:17.78 on the Rettenbach glacier for his best giant slalom result. Teammate Benjamin Raich, runner-up to Miller in the overall standings last season, was fourth in 2:18.37.

AP-ES-10-23-05 1652EDT


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