Miller's World Cup lead cut to 31 points

Updated: February 27, 2005, 9:28 AM ET
Reuters

KRANJSKA GORA, Slovenia -- Italy's Giorgio Rocca won the penultimate men's slalom of the Alpine ski World Cup season on Sunday after Finn Kalle Palander threw away his first-leg lead.

Third place was enough to give Benjamin Raich the slalom World Cup when his closest rival, fellow Austrian Manfred Pranger, could manage only 14th.

Overall World Cup leader Bode Miller failed to finish. The American, who skied out of Saturday's giant slalom here, straddled a gate on the second run, allowing Raich to close the gap in the all-round standings to just 31 points.

Former world champion Palander, who had been on course for his first victory in nearly a year, finished 12th after a big mistake within sight of the finish line on the second run. Swede Andre Myhrer had the best result of his career with second place, 0.21 seconds behind Rocca's time of one minute 34.95.

Raich, who won the slalom and combined gold medals at the world championships earlier this month, was delighted to wrap up the World Cup title with one race remaining, at the finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, next month.

"Everything is perfect," Raich said. "This was one of the most difficult slaloms and I just tried to forget about the World Cup. My philosophy is just to think about each race."

Miller's blank weekend, in a resort where he has won twice, puts the American under pressure to do well in the downhill and super-G in Kvitfjell, Norway, next weekend -- the last speed races before the finals.

After a win either side of Christmas, Rocca endured a difficult month. He was disqualified from the Wengen slalom after officials ruled that he had straddled a gate and became embroiled in a row over timing in Schladming.

He recovered his form with two bronze medals at the world championships in Bormio and was delighted with Sunday's victory in front of a large contingent of Italian fans who had made the trip across the border.

"I really wanted to win again," the 29-year-old Rocca said. "This winter I could have won four or five races because I was so strong but I just didn't have the luck."

The 22-year-old Myhrer celebrated his second podium in two races after he finished third in the Schladming slalom in January.

"I was thinking I could make it today because I knew that the course was more demanding for the skiers starting behind me," said Myhrer, who had bib No. 10.

Fresh snowfalls in recent days made the course difficult and late starters found that conditions had deteriorated.

Palander made the mistake of attacking too hard on the second run as did Austria's Mario Matt, fourth after the first leg, who missed a gate at the bottom of the second run.

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