SOELDEN, Austria -- Tina Maze has improved one place on the women's overall World Cup each year -- from fourth in 2010 to winning it last season.
Is there a way she could top it this season? There is; a first Olympic gold medal.
Main rivals label the outspoken Slovenian as the undoubted favourite for the overall title again, two days before the ski season gets underway with Saturday's giant slalom on Rettenbach glacier, where four-time former overall champion Lindsey Vonn will be missing.
"It's going to be difficult," Maze said. "Last season, I didn't focus on the points (total) or the number of podiums. I just focused on racing and that's what I want do again this year."
Maze, who turned 30 in May, won 11 races last season, taking the GS and super-G titles, and racking up a record points total of 2,414. She also became only the sixth female skier to win events in every Alpine discipline, with Vonn the only other active achiever.
Maze capped her season by winning super-G gold and two bronze medals at the world championships in Schladming, Austria.
"Not for Lindsey or for Maria (Hoefl-Riesch, the 2011 overall champion), but it was important to me that I showed who is the best skier," she said. "Still, you can always do better."
Her rise to the top started in 2008 by starting her own independent team, led by her Italian coach and partner Andrea Massi. The team lost long-term coach Livio Magoni, who joined the Italian women's team in the off-season. He has been replaced by Walter Ronconi, who previously worked with GS specialist Massimiliano Blardone.
The change initially unsettled Maze, Massi said.
"When Walter came, communication was difficult," he said. "For Tina it was not easy to have new people in the team. She needs continuity. Tina always wants brief information. When she won her first medal (at the worlds) in 2009, I said four words to her and that was enough. Some coaches speak too much about the weather, the turns, the position on the skis. You need to be brief."
Massi said the situation "is better now" and that it didn't affect Maze's preparation too much as "we stuck to the same schedule as last year but started two weeks later to have more time for regeneration."
The pair used the extended break for a 10-day trip to the Maldives, though Maze said "living without sports made me nervous. But my body needed the rest."
Training during summer included practice sessions with the Austria men's speed team and with Marcel Hirscher, the two-time men's overall champion.
"I always learn from people who are better," Maze said. "There are many things the men do better. They take more risks, they are more consistent, without feelings or too many emotions."
Last season, Maze succeeded Vonn, who had won the overall title four times in five years.
The American has recovered from her season-ending right knee injury at the worlds in February, but said she didn't feel ready to race again, postponing her return for another month.
"It was her own decision," U.S. women's head coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. "She's experienced enough to know what she can do and what she can't. ... If you want to race, you want to be competitive. She knew that she's missing training days -- everybody knew."
Vonn returned to Colorado in Wednesday and will resume training there ahead of the first speed events in late November.
Vonn's teammates Julia Mancuso and Mikaela Shiffrin, who finished fourth and fifth respectively in the overall standings last season, hope to gain ground on Maze, starting with Saturday's GS.
"Tina is definitely favourite," Mancuso said. "We had the big rule change on GS skis last year and she proved to have figured it out. She is right there and the person to look out for and try to beat."
Shiffrin, coming off her breakthrough year which included the slalom World Cup and world championship titles, said she's been "working hard on my GS and I feel like I've made a lot of improvements, so it's just a matter of racing now ... I don't have any expectations."
Hoefl-Riesch was Maze's closest challenger last season, finishing runner-up but trailing the Slovenian by a massive 1,313 points.
"After last season, who else could be favourite?" the German said. "Her strength was her consistency, which really lasted for the entire season. It won't be easy for her to repeat that."