Skiing: Maier denies Raich's slalom hat-trick

HERMANN MAIER kept his word and held his nerve in Adelboden, Switzerland, yesterday to win a World Cup giant slalom ahead of his team-mate Benjamin Raich.

Austria's Olympic champion had promised retribution after finishing third in a giant slalom on his home hill in Flachau on Sunday behind the victorious newcomer, Raich. Maier kept his pledge by collecting his sixth victory of the season.

It was his second giant slalom victory of the season and his second in two years on Adelboden's treacherous Kuonisbergli piste, with a two-run combined time of 2min 12.66sec.

Norway's Kjetil Andre Aamodt, Maier's main rival in the overall World Cup standings, kept the pressure on the double Olympic champion by crossing second in 2:12.94. It was his first podium finish in giant slalom this season. He finished third in a slalom in Schladming last week.

Raich - leader after the first leg and chasing his third win in six days - had to settle for third, with 2:13.14.

Bothered by a sore back that forced him to take painkillers before the race, Maier admitted he had been considering skipping the next races in Wengen and Kitzbuehel to rest before next month's World Championships in Vail, Colorado. However, with Aamodt so close behind, the former bricklayer said he would talk to the team doctors.

"I'm not sure about my programme - I'll make a decision this evening," said Maier, who leads the overall rankings with 911 points, 228 clear of Aamodt. "I have to think seriously about it because Aamodt is so close now."

Switzerland's Michael Von Gruenigen retained the lead from Maier in the giant slalom standings by two points.

Second after the first leg, Maier was at his best on his second run down the piste, showing no signs of pain or discomfort to record 1:06.86.

Raich also charged down the course but a costly error near the start of his run denied the 20 year old another victory.

"I had no problem with the pressure," shrugged Raich, a five-time junior world champion. "I've raced from the front before and know that kind of pressure. I'm just pleased to be on the podium after making a mistake at the top of the course."

Until yesterday's victory, the slightly built Raich had overshadowed the powerful Maier through the first few weeks of 1999.

Raich, who claimed his maiden World Cup win in a night slalom in Schladming last Thursday before a giant slalom victory in Flachau, had suddenly found himself at the centre of media attention.

"I'm happy for Benjamin," said Maier. "His success takes pressure away from me. I've had less work to do away from the hill because Benjamin is so popular."

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