(CNN) -- Marion Rolland had never won a major race before, but she fulfilled a lifelong dream on Sunday when she claimed the prestigious women's downhill title at the Alpine Skiing World Championships in Austria.
With 2011 silver medalist and Olympic champion Lindsey Vonn ruled out for the season after crashing on the opening day in Schladming, the gold was up for grabs -- but no-one expected Rolland to take it.
Ranked 10th in the World Cup downhill standings this season, and 29th overall, the 30-year-old made a late surge to glory as she headed off Nadia Fanchini by just 0.16 seconds to earn France's third gold of the championships.
"Since I was a kid, I wanted to become a world champion. This is like a dream to me!" she told reporters.
"If you believe in yourself and your dreams, you will reach them one day. It was absolutely breathtaking today."
Fanchini won bronze in 2009, but has been rebuilding her career following serious injuries to both knees which ruled her out of the following year's Olympics in Vancouver.
"I clinched a medal and can't believe it! After a bad crash in Kitzbuhel in 2010, it was only my fourth downhill competition since my comeback," the 26-year-old Italian said.
Maria Hofl-Riesch followed up her victory in Friday's super-combined by adding a bronze to the one she won at Garmisch in 2011.
"In your career, there are always ups and downs. Having these 'ups' and moments of joy during World Championships is extremely special," the 28-year-old German said.
Switzerland's Nadja Kamer was fourth while Julia Mancuso was the leading American in fifth place ahead of compatriot Stacey Cook.
World Cup overall leader Tina Maze had to settle for seventh place, while defending champion Elisabeth Gorgl of Austria was 10th.