By Brian Homewood
WENGEN, Switzerland (Reuters) - Swiss Beat Feuz led from the front on Saturday to win the downhill at Wengen, one of the oldest and most prestigious races of the World Cup skiing season, for the second time.
The 30-year-old, the defending world champion in the discipline, was the first to go and completed the 4.27 km Lauberhorn course, the longest on the World Cup circuit, in two minutes 26.50 seconds.
Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal, starting third, was the only one to get near Feuz's time but missed out on his third downhill win of the season by 0.18 seconds.
Feuz and Svindal, who won in Wengen two years ago, are expected to be among the leading contenders to win gold in the discipline at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang next month.
Feuz, 30, has never won an Olympic medal while 35-year-old Svindal, one of the most successful speed racers in the last decade, won gold in Super G, silver in downhill and bronze in giant slalom at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Matthias Mayer, gold medalist in Sochi four years ago, was third, 0.67 seconds behind Feuz.
Svindal, back in form after having knee surgery a year ago, led Feuz's time on the upper part of the course, then trailed, then led by 0.02 seconds at the final split time but lost crucial seconds near the end.
His time was greeted with cheers by the 35,000 crowd that packed the car-free resort, which can only be reached by railway, since after that Feuz never looked threatened.
"When you go first, you don't really know where you stand but once Aksel had gone, I knew I was in with a real chance," Feuz told reporters after the ninth World Cup win of his career.
"I feel good, I feel fit and I think I'm skiing very well this season."
The Swiss also won the Wengen downhill in 2012 and was second three years ago. Svindal stayed top of the World Cup downhill standings with 420 points but Feuz cut his lead to 58.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)