MERIBEL, France, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Carolina Ruiz Castillo put Spain back on the alpine skiing map when she won the women's World Cup downhill in Meribel on Saturday to bridge a seven-year gap since their last victory.
At 31, the Chilean-born Spaniard who trains in France outpaced the leading favourites to clinch her first World Cup victory, 13 years after her only previous podium in Sestriere.
Ruiz Castillo's success in one minute 42.56 seconds was Spain's first since Maria Jose Rienda Contreras triumphed in a giant slalom in Hafjell in 2006.
It was almost a home win for popular speed specialist Ruiz Castillo who regularly trains with the French team.
Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the super-combined world champion in Schladming, was second, 0.20 seconds adrift for her third downhill podium of the winter following Lake Louise and her bronze medal at the worlds earlier this month.
Local favourite Marie Marchand-Arvier missed the runners-up spot by the slimmest margin, finishing 0.01 behind Hoefl-Riesch.
World Cup leader Tina Maze of Slovenia missed the podium by 0.07 seconds but added 50 points to her overall World Cup tally, moving to 1,744 points.
France's world champion Marion Rolland had to be content with 10th place, 0.80 off the pace.
Maze and Hoefl-Riesch will be clear favourites in Sunday's super-combined on the same Roc de Fer piste, home to the women's races at the 1992 Olympics. (Reporting by Patrick Lang; Editing by Ken Ferris)