Copper Mountain, CO Nov. 20 (AP by John Mossman)--Only nine months after major knee surgery, France's Regine Cavagnoud wasn't only back racing. She was back winning.
Cavagnoud skied to a narrow victory over Italy's Karen Putzer in a women's World Cup giant slalom on Friday.
``I have a lot of reasons to feel so much emotion today,'' Cavagnoud said after receiving hugs from her teammates. ``To come back so soon, it shows that hard work pays off. This win puts me back on track.''
Cavagnoud won the first two races of her career _ a downhill and super-G in Cortina, Italy, last January _ but on Feb. 2 she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during downhill training at the World Championships in Vail.
She didn't resume training until she felt completely ready, in late August. In the season's opening race, a giant slalom at Tignes, France, on Oct. 31, she finished 13th in an event won by Switzerland's Sonja Nef.
On Friday, Cavagnoud paced the first run of the giant slalom, then maintained her position despite posting only the 21st-fastest time in the second run.
A 10-year World Cup veteran who never had finished higher than fourth in giant slalom, Cavagnoud had a combined time of 2 minutes, 0.84 seconds, beating Putzer by .07 seconds.
Cavagnoud, 29, began the second run with a lead of .43 seconds over Austria's Michaela Dorfmeister.
``I had never won a World Cup race, and now to win three within a year is a very great feeling,'' Cavagnoud said. ``I tried to be mentally strong during my rehabilitation. I knew I could win again as soon as my body was ready.''
Putzer, 21, rallied from sixth place after the first run to record her best career finish.
``At Tignes, I had a strong first run and then skied out in the second run,'' Putzer said. ``Today I wanted to finish. I had a little mistake on my first run, and I knew I could do better, so I did it. I'm not too upset losing by seven-hundredths.''
Dorfmeister wound up third _ her best GS finish ever _ in 2:01.06 on a relatively flat course that favored downhillers. ``It was a big advantage for the speed skier,'' she said. ``It was not so turny, and it had gliding sections.''
Sweden's Anja Paerson took fourth in 2:01.12, coming all the way from 24th after the initial heat by posting the quickest second run (59.65).
Slovenia's Mojca Suhadolc was fifth in 2:01.17. A pair of Swedes, Anna Ottosson and Pernilla Wiberg, were sixth and seventh, respectively, in 2:01.24 and 2:01.25. Austria's Renate Goetschl was eighth in 2:01.33.
Austrian ace Alexandra Meissnitzer slipped from seventh after the first run to 16th in 2:01.69. Meissnitzer is the defending world champion in giant slalom, having won at nearby Vail last spring. She also won last season's World Cup GS title, edging Anita Wachter, as well as running away with the World Cup overall title.
The only American to qualify among the top 30 for the second run was Kristina Koznick of Burnsville, Minn., who wound up 27th in 2:02.43. Koznick, who started 69th in the first round, went fifth in the second run.
``It was kind of fun to start up front and not have to wait and wait for my run,'' she said. ``I think I skied the same line, a little too round. I went out hard and didn't hold anything back. But I still have a lot to learn (about GS).''
This race and a slalom on Saturday were moved to Copper Mountain because of insufficient snow in Park City, Utah.
They are the first World Cup races at Copper Mountain since 1976, when men and women each had two technical races here.
Two men's races originally scheduled for Park City will be staged next Tuesday and Wednesday at Beaver Creek, Colo., preceding a downhill and super-G already scheduled there next weekend. Copyright © 1999 The Associated Press