February 26, 2005
KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia (AP by Eugene Brcic)--Benjamin Raich led a 1-2 Austrian finish Saturday in a giant slalom and drew closer to overall World Cup leader Bode Miller, who lost a ski during the second run and slid off the course.
Raich was followed by Hermann Maier and Kalle Palander of Finland. Daron Rahlves of the United States was fifth.
``It's a big victory for me here,'' Raich said. ``Bode went out, but you never hope the opposition will go out.''
Miller lost a ski while in the lead at the first split of the final run, giving up valuable points in his bid to become the first American to win the overall title in 22 years. His lead over Raich has been cut to 91 points with seven races to go.
Raich covered the icy Podkoren course in a combined time of 2 minutes, 43.73 seconds. Maier, the reigning giant slalom world champion, was 0.45 seconds behind. Palander, the first-leg leader, was 0.79 seconds off the winning time.
Miller of Franconia, N.H., led by 0.32 seconds at the first interval before his right leg went wide on a turn and his ski became dislodged after slamming into a bump. He continued skiing down several gates then stopped at the side fencing, looking at the sky in disgust and disbelief.
``It was a really hard hit,'' said U.S. ski team spokesman Marc Habermann. ``It shouldn't happen, but it does happen and skis can come off.''
``Bode skied a straight line, but it was bumpy out there and he skied right into a hole,'' Habermann added. ``He wanted to keep skiing but it was no use.''
Conditions were close to ideal with softly sprinkling snow causing only minor visibility problems on a mostly sun-flushed course.
Palander was the first skier out of the hut and carved a 0.28-second lead on the first run. But the Finn lost his cushion midway through the second run, and his shot at his first title of the season faded.
This was Raich's first giant slalom title this season after two top-three World Cup finishes and a silver at the world championship this month. Raich, a technical specialist who won on this course three years ago, took over the lead in the giant slalom standings.
Phil Mahre is the only American to have won the overall title, doing so in three consecutive years from 1981. Miller is in front with 1,253 points, followed by Raich at 1,162. Of the seven races left, three are technical events. But Raich doesn't want to start calculating.
``To think of that tactically will never work,'' Raich said. ``I will race to win every race I enter. It's pretty close, but Bode has an advantage as he is very strong in the downhill and there are more speed events to go.''
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press