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Skiing: Alphand conquers icy piste

Luc Alphand won his second World Cup downhill of the season yesterday on a treacherous piste in Bormio that claimed several rivals, including the Czech skier Andrej Hutka, who tore the cruciate ligaments of his right knee - a season-ending injury.

Alphand, the winner of the men's World Cup downhill title for the past two seasons, clocked 2min 0.51sec down the Italian resort's steep and icy Stelvio piste. "Its a great way to finish the year," said the 31-year- old Frenchman, who has now won eight World Cup races.

William Besse was second in 2:00.72 to become the first Swiss downhiller to step on the podium this season. Kristian Ghedina, Alphand's main rival after four downhills, was third in 2:01.18 and the first Italian on the podium in Bormio since the resort first hosted a race in 1993.

Ghedina, who like Alphand won in Val Gardena this month, was pleased but felt luck was not on his side. The Italian, bearded at Val Gardena but clean-shaven in Bormio, shared a room with compatriot Peter Runggaldier, who came down with a temperature overnight. Both had little sleep. "I was so tired this morning," Ghedina said. "My legs were burning on the lower part of the course."

Runggaldier started but did not have the strength to keep the racing line and skied out on the upper piste. He was not the only one, with five of the first eight men on the starting list failing to make the finish. The race organisers put extra water on the higher turns overnight to harden the piste and hold it together, and many of the racers found it hard to control their skis.

The overall World Cup leader Hans Knauss, starting first, almost fell at the Carcentina bend when his skis veered away from under his body. He retired half-way down the hill. Canada's Brian Stemmle skied out at the top, Runggaldier went after him, and Switzerland's Bruno Kernen crashed out. The world champion Patrick Ortlieb did not start due to a stomach bug.

Alphand said he had been struck by how Austria's Josef Strobl had attacked the piste before he went down. "I thought these young guys are really crazy," Alphand said. "I surprised myself. I didn't think I could be so aggressive. When you have as much experience as me it is much harder to ski to the limit than before." The downhillers now have a rest until 11 January in Chamonix, France.

In the women's World Cup slalom in Semmering, Austria, the Italian racer Deborah Compagnoni scored the first World Cup victory of her career. Two near-perfect runs down an icy piste earned her a triumph by more than a full second.

Compagnoni, who has won Olympics golds in giant slalom and super-G, kept her composure in bitter temperatures of minus 17 to take both runs for a total time of 1min 42.94sec.

The Austrian-born New Zealander Claudia Riegler, the winner of the first two slaloms of the season, improved three positions in the second run to snatch third place.