SCHLADMING, Austria (AP)With his home world championships looming, French skier Clement Noel finally ended his long victory drought on the World Cup circuit.
The slalom specialist won a night race Tuesday for his first victory since winning Olympic gold last February. It was the 10th career win for Noel, but first on the World Cup since triumphing at his home race in Val d’Isere in December 2021.
”Maybe this is the best race of the season. I am very, very happy. And so many people here,” the Frenchman said.
Noel was only seventh after the opening leg but used a strong second run to take the lead. Together with 41,500 spectators, he then saw how the top six struggled on the many rolls on the floodlit Planai course and failed to beat his time.
”That feels amazing, especially here in Schladming. It’s always incredible here in Schladming,” Noel said.
The night race is an annual highlight for ski-mad Austria, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the village with about 7,000 inhabitants. Fans carrying torches line up on both sides of the course, getting much closer to the racers than at most other World Cup venues.
”Today is a perfect day, a perfect race. And the atmosphere was incredible,” Noel said.
Ramon Zenhausern of Switzerland climbed from fifth to second, 0.07 seconds behind Noel, and Lucas Braathen came 0.38 back in third.
First-run leader Henrik Kristoffersen lost time following a big mistake in the steep middle section and dropped to 11th. Kristoffersen was eying a record fifth win at the annual night race.
Daniel Yule, who won in Kitzbuehel two days ago, was already 1.18 off the pace after the first run before the Swiss skier skied out in the second.
Home favorite Manuel Feller was second after the opening run but finished 0.07 behind Braathen in fourth.
The Austrian led the slalom in Kitzbuehel two days ago but then failed to finish his final run.
Tuesday’s result meant that Braathen extended his lead in the discipline standings over Kristoffersen to 41 points as the Norwegian duo remained 1-2 ahead of Yule.
Noel still only ranked seventh after his victory, 198 points behind Braathen. The Frenchman had failed to finish six of his first eight slaloms after the Beijing Olympics, including three of the first four of the current season, which he called ”a bit difficult.”
However, he placed sixth and eighth, respectively, at the two classic races in Wengen and Kitzbuehel this month.
”The world championships in France are my goal, these are very important for us,” Noel said about the Feb. 6-19 event in Courchevel and Meribel.
”But I don’t want to think too much about the future now,” added the Frenchman, who has one more race before the worlds – a slalom in Chamonix on Feb. 4.
Overall World Cup leader Marco Odermatt sat out Tuesday’s race as he does not compete in slalom. The Swiss skier planned to start in a giant slalom on the same hill Wednesday night.
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