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Puzzle solved as Shiffrin sweeps to Bansko downhill win

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Bansko (Bulgaria) (AFP)

American Mikaela Shiffrin consolidated her spot atop the overall World Cup standings by demonstrating her all-round skiing ability with victory in Friday's downhill in Bansko.

Shiffrin, a technical specialist who has proven increasingly adept at the speed events, clocked 1min 29.79sec down the 2.4km-long course in perfect, cold but sunny conditions at the Bulgarian resort. It was her second ever downhill win of her career.

Hitting speeds of 109km/h (68mph), the American negotiated the rarely-raced track with ease, likening the experience to solving a puzzle, as a raft of later starters struggled down.

"I'm really excited about how I skied," said Shiffrin. "I wasn't expecting this today.

"This hill is very challenging, it's a technical hill, the most technical track on the speed circuit... maybe it suits me more than other typical speed tracks.

"There's a lot of adrenaline, and you have to be really mentally strong to push and be aggressive."

Shiffrin added: "I find it interesting to learn a new track, it's like a puzzle.

"It was pretty exciting to put everything together today and have a really strong run. I did a really good job and skied well."

The win was the 65th on the World Cup circuit for the 24-year-old, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and current three-time reigning overall World Cup champion who stands second behind now-retired compatriot Lindsey Vonn for number of races won.

The victory in Bansko was Shiffrin's first in the downhill since her maiden discipline triumph in Lake Louise in December 2017. It was also her fifth victory of the season after slalom wins in Levi, Killington and Lienz, where she also won the giant slalom.

Italian Federica Brignone finished second in 1:29.97, 0.18sec off Shiffrin's pace, with Swiss Joana Haehlen claiming her first podium finish in third, a further five-hundredths of a second adrift.

Shiffrin's rival in the technical events, Petra Vlhova, threatened from start number 32, the Slovak leading the interim timings until a mistake at the bottom section saw her eventually finish in sixth, 1.03sec -- or the equivalent of 27 metres -- off the American.

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