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Germany's Gina Stechert celebrates her victory on Saturday. ((Giovanni Auletta/Associated Press))

An early start went a long way for Gina Stechert, who narrowly defeated Lindsey Vonn in a women's downhill race Saturday in Tarvisio, Italy, for her first World Cup victory.

Fifth out of the gate, the German skier wound her way down the Prampero course in one minute 59.94 seconds, just 0.01 of a second ahead of Vonn, who hails from the United States.

Anja Paerson of Sweden was 0.39 back in third place.

The 21-year-old Stechert's best previous finish was fourth in a downhill in Lake Louise, Alta., in December.

Warmer conditions slowed the later competitors in Saturday's race.

At 3.28 kilometres, the Prampero is the longest course the women have raced on all season, but Stechert's margin of victory was measured at a mere 27 centimetres.

Vonn started 17th and was 0.08 of a second ahead of Stechert through three straight checkpoints before losing her lead on the final pitch, where the changing snow conditions had the biggest impact.

Vonn remains tied with Tamara McKinney for the U.S. women's record of 18 World Cup victories.

Despite her second-place finish, Vonn increased her lead in the overall World Cup standings and now has 1,274 points. Maria Riesch, who finished 10th, is next with 1,061 points and Paerson is third with 960.

Vonn also added to her lead in the downhill standings with 320 points.

Dominique Gisin of Switzerland, who finished seventh, is next with 262 points and Paerson is third with 220. There are three more downhills remaining in the season.

With files from the Associated Press