Carolina Ruiz Castillo stunned the field by earning her first career World Cup victory at the age of 31 on Saturday in Meribel, France, winning a downhill race 13 years after her only previous podium finish.
The Spanish skier had never placed higher than seventh in a downhill before but beat Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany by 0.20 seconds and Frenchwoman Marie Marchand-Arvier by 0.21.
"The win feels even better because I know all the hard work I have done," Ruiz Castillo said.
Ruiz Castillo only had eight previous top-10 finishes on the World Cup, and her only other podium was second place in a giant slalom in 2000 at the Italian resort of Sestriere.
"It's been too long, but it's also very different, because my first [podium] was in giant," she said. "At that time I didn't know what downhill and super-G was about, I started speed events later. "
Starting late, she skied a technically perfect run on the Roc de Fer course.
"I felt confident, I was quick in training," said Ruiz Castillo, who was third best in Thursday's first training run.
Overall World Cup leader Tina Maze was 0.28 back in fourth spot.
"It's a tricky hill if you do any small mistakes," said Maze, who was fastest on Thursday and second fastest in Friday's training.
Marchand-Arvier, the ninth to start, made up a lot of time on the second part of the course and then watched as 10 racers failed to match her time. She looked stunned, however, when Hoefl-Riesch also made up time in the bottom section to edge her by .01 — ending the Frenchwoman's hopes of a first World Cup win.
Her best remains second place at Lake Louise, Canada, in December 2011. This was her fourth World Cup downhill podium and fifth overall.
"I think that I have to be happy with that podium today," Marchand-Arvier said. "Carolina's an excellent skier who often has trouble expressing herself in races. It's a deserved win, even though it makes me want it even more because it seems to keep getting away from me."
Hoefl-Riesch consolidated her second place in the overall standings but remains a massive 858 points behind Maze, having only had three podium finishes on the World Cup this season.
"I'm really, really happy with this podium," Hoefl-Riesch said. "Although it's a little bit sad that I didn't win, I was also lucky that I ended up second."
Enough to win
The German skier seemed convinced she had done enough to win, patting her skis several times and giving a thumbs up to the crowd in the French Alpine resort, which was hosting a World Cup race for the first time in 19 years.
"That was the first time since a long time that I was coming into the finish in the lead. It was a great feeling to see the green light," she said.
But Ruiz Castillo, the 28th to start, was well ahead on the first two time splits and kept her pace, bringing a roar of surprise from the crowd and a nod of appreciation from Hoefl-Riesch.
"I knew if she was doing the same like she did in training, she can win one day," Hoefl-Riesch said. "She deserved it. She was fighting for a long time."
Maze was looking to become only the third woman to win in all five disciplines in a single season. Petra Kronberger of Austria (1990-91) and Janica Kostelic of Croatia (2005-06) are the only women to clinch a single-season sweep of slalom, giant slalom, downhill, combined and super-G victories.
"I was sure I could do that today, but I was too slow on top," Maze said. "At the bottom I didn't attack like the first days [in training]."
The 29-year-old Slovenian will get another chance to win a downhill next week at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
If she gets a podium in the super-combined on Sunday, Maze will tie the record for most podiums in a single season. Having won seven races so far, she is one short of equaling the women's record of 18 held by Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden and Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein.
Maze has won four giant slalom races, and one each in super-combined, slalom and super-G.
At the recent world championships, Maze won gold in super-G and silver in super-combined and giant slalom. Hoefl-Riesch won the super-combined at the worlds and they will renew their rivalry in Sunday's race, which features a downhill followed by a slalom.