ALPINE SKIING - WORLD CUP

Grange steals victory in Zagreb

France's Jean-Baptiste Grange has won the second men's World Cup slalom, pipping local favourite Ivica Kostelic. The French skiier now leads the slalom and general championships less than one month before the World Cup in Val d'Isere.

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REUTERS - France's Jean-Baptiste Grange won his second slalom of the season by just 0.05 seconds on Tuesday to once more deny Croatia its first World Cup win at home.


Grange, fastest in the first leg by 0.27 seconds, beat local favourite Ivica Kostelic into second place in a combined time of one minute and 53.31 seconds. Little-known Italian Giuliano Razzoli was third, 0.35 seconds behind the winner.


Grange's victory follows another slalom win in Levi in November and two runner-up places in between, the last in the Italian resort of Alta Badia, behind Kostelic.


"It was an amazing race, I love to ski here," Grange, who has now won five slaloms and a super-combined in his World up
career, told reporters.


"I think today I won one of my most difficult and most significant victories because I won away, in my rival's home after starting behind him in both runs."


"To win in such conditions gives me great morale for the other classic races to come and for other tense moments ahead like the world championships at home in Val d'Isere."


In front of 20,000 home fans, Kostelic had to be content with a runner-up finish for the second year in succession, having lost the floodlit evening event last year to Austrian world champion Mario Matt.


Two other Croats, Ana Jelusic in 2007, and Kostelic's sister Janica in 2006, have also managed a medal spot on the Sijeme piste, but no home skier has yet won in the Croatian capital.


"Today I was impressed by Grange," Kostelic said. "I knew I would not have so many chances to win in front of my home crowd. I was in the shape of my life, I skied two runs at a 110 percent and still he managed to beat me."


Victory allowed Grange to seize the lead not only in the slalom World Cup standings, one of his main goals this season, but also in the overall standings. The Frenchman has 466 points.


Third-placed Razzoli, who started in 43rd position in the first leg, had never before managed a top 10 finish in a World Cup race.


While most of the other favourites faltered, American Bode Miller also suffered another disappointment.


The 2008 World Cup winner was disqualified after the first run for using irregular boots. Officials said they were higher than the World Cup regulations permit.


Grange and Kostelic will again be among the skiers to watch next weekend as the men's World Cup circuit moves to Adelboden, in Switzerland, for a classic giant slalom and a slalom.

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