Herbst flies to second slalom win

By Mark Meadows

ALTA BADIA, Italy (Reuters) - Austria's Reinfried Herbst racked up his second World Cup slalom win in two races on the Gran Risa course on Monday to install himself as favorite for February's Vancouver Olympics.

Compatriot Manfred Pranger led after the first run but could only finish third after losing time late on in his second leg.

Switzerland's Silvan Zurbriggen grabbed second after carving down the slope as elegantly as the course itself winds its way through the trees in the picturesque Italian Dolomites.

Herbst, who also prevailed in the season-opener in Levi in November, keeps the lead in the slalom standings while fellow Austrian Benjamin Raich remains at the top of the overall table despite skiing out in the second leg when looking well-placed.

"A second World Cup win is wonderful. It has been a good display by Austria," Herbst told reporters after clocking a combined time of one minute 49.31.

His victory, Austria's first on the South Tyrol piste since Christian Mayer's giant slalom win in 1997, came more than a month after the previous slalom race because of a skewed calendar.

"Six weeks later we have had another race, it was a long break but I am in good shape," added Herbst.

MOELGG FOURTH

The winners of the past two races here, Ivica Kostelic and Jean-Baptiste Grange, are both out injured but Herbst said his recovery from three serious knee problems should give them hope.

"I can be an inspiration to skiers to keep faith and believe in themselves," he said, ear stud glistening.

Second-placed Zurbriggen was thrilled to grab the fastest time of the second run and come so close to winning.

"It was a bit of a surprise but it was thanks to my decision to skip the downhill in Val Gardena," he said.

Host Italy, who had four skiers in the top six in Sunday's giant slalom, had to settle for Manfred Moelgg's fourth spot.

Switzerland's much-hyped Carlo Janka, who previously boasted that the slalom course was one of the easiest on the circuit, sloppily missed a gate early on in the first leg to go out.

American Bode Miller, recovering from a sprained ankle, decided not to race after struggling to make an impact in the Super-G, downhill and giant slalom which took place in nearby Val Gardena and Alta Badia over the past three days.

The men's World Cup next moves to Italy's Bormio for a downhill race on December 29 which Raich has hinted he will miss.

(Editing by Sonia Oxley)