By Manuele Lang
SCHLADMING, Austria (Reuters) - For local fans, Marcel Hirscher will top the bill at the alpine skiing world championships in the next fortnight yet the rivalry between Tina Maze and Lindsey Vonn in the women's competition looks arguably more exciting.
Slovenian Maze, who will defend her giant slalom crown in Schladming, has already bagged the giant slalom World Cup crystal globe and looks certain to clinch the overall title more than a month before the end of the World Cup series.
The 29-year-old is also on course to break the landmark 2,000 points barrier in the World Cup that Vonn only missed by 20 points last season.
With seven wins and 17 podiums in the past four months, Maze is rewriting the record books yet her domination might be her downfall during the world championship fortnight as her rivals have been saving their season for the big event.
American Vonn has made it clear she wants revenge on the Austrian slopes with the first race, the women's super-G, taking place on Tuesday.
"I have the feeling like this is the chance for me to take back what I've lost this winter, you know, I lost the overall title already," said the four-times World Cup champion.
"Now the world championships are coming and I definitely have the feeling I can turn my season around."
The American took a timely break around the New Year to solve health and personal problems and certainly looks on the way up while Maze, who could take part in all six events in Schladming, showed signs of fatigue in Moscow's parallel slalom last Tuesday.
Asked about her chances of winning medals in each event, the Slovenian remained cautious.
"I don't know about that. But for sure, it would be exciting to come there with such a great season, and show also at the world championships that I'm strong," she said.
She was also very reluctant to single out rivals.
"I really hate that question. When you are at the start, you are alone with yourself, except in parallel, where you have a skier beside you and it's one-on-one, and there you can speak about them.
"In other events, it's always yourself, and the others do their job."
So it left was up to Vonn to review the field and pin Maze as well as old friend and rival Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany as the women to watch alongside a surprisingly strong American team this season.
"The U.S. team is skiing so well right now. Those girls are all going to be really competitive. Especially in the world champs and Olympic Games, you always see people coming out that are getting on the podium," she said.
In-form Anna Fenninger will be Austria's main women's hope on home snow along with Kathrin Zettel while organizers seem delighted to maintain some suspense until the penultimate day over whether injured slalom world champion Marlies Schild will be able to defend her title.
In the men's competition, all eyes will be on Austrian Hirscher, the World Cup holder and current leader, who has yet to win a medal at a major event.
His domination in slaloms so far this season has been overwhelming and anything less than gold would be a disappointment for the fans.
In the giant slalom, the 23-year-old faces strong opposition from American defending champion Ted Ligety.
While the competition looks more open in speed events, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal has rarely missed out in medal events and already accounts for nine medals including five gold at either the worlds or the Olympics.
His main rival in both the super-G and the downhill should be Italian Christof Innerhofer, the super-G title holder.
(Editing by Mark Meadows; firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 20 7542 7933; Reuters Messaging:; email@example.com)