SKIING: Kjus cruises to another success

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LASSE KJUS of Norway won the second World Cup downhill of the season in Val Gardena, Italy, yesterday, picking up where he left off last weekend to beat his rivals by almost a full second.

The former overall World Cup champion was a surprise winner of the Val d'Isere downhill last Saturday and proved that was no fluke with an unbeaten time of 2min 02.18sec.

Austria's Werner Franz was second in 2:03.09 and his compatriot Hermann Maier, the overall World Cup champion, third in 2:03.28 after starting 31st on a Saslong piste that has always favoured the gliders.

Kjus was the first Norwegian to win in Val Gardena since Atle Skaardal in 1990 and has now won two of the big downhill classics of the season. His 0.91 of a second winning margin was the widest at Val Gardena since the Swiss racer, William Besse, triumphed in 1992.

Kjus now heads into today's race bidding to become the first man to win downhills at the Italian resort on consecutive days since Austria's Franz Klammer in 1976. The Norwegian's victory also took him to the top of the overall World Cup standings on 413 points, 30 clear of the previous leader, Stephan Eberharter of Austria, who finished 15th.

Kjus, 14th out of the start-hut on a brilliantly sunny afternoon in the Dolomites, chopped an astonishing two seconds off the time of the early pacesetter, Brian Stemmle of Canada. "I couldn't believe my time when I turned round and looked at the scoreboard," the Norwegian said. "Above all I tried to ski neatly today. I was aggressive too but above all I wanted to stay in control. I was a bit ragged on certain parts of the course and I believe I can be even faster tomorrow."

In Veysonnaz, Swizterland, the Olympic slalom champion, Hilde Gerg of Germany, tamed a treacherous, icy course to claim the first World Cup downhill win of her career.

Gerg charged down the rock-hard piste in a winning time of 1:41.13, giving Germany a first win of the season in the absence of the injured Olympic downhill champion, Katja Seizinger.

The Swedish veteran, Pernilla Wiberg, took second in 1:41.55. Italy's Bibiana Perez was third in 1:41.63.