FLACHAU, Austria (AP) — Manuel Feller raced through driving snow to win a World Cup slalom on Saturday after Clement Noël let a first-run lead slip away in his third straight race.
Feller rose from third fastest in the morning to edge Noël by 0.43 seconds and regain the slalom standings lead on a course named for Austrian great Hermann Maier.
Marco Schwarz was third, trailing his Austria teammate by 0.70 — and a single point in the season-long standings.
Feller’s first career win followed six runner-up finishes, including in two slaloms this season and a silver medal at the 2017 world championships.
“It’s awesome and it feels like a miracle,” said Feller, who struggled with back injuries last season.
He wore low-ranked bib No. 26 when he was runner-up four weeks ago at Alta Badia, Italy.
Noël was a three-time winner last season, but got his first podium finish on Saturday in his fifth race of this campaign. The Frenchman also wasted a first-run lead last Sunday when Schwarz won at Adelboden, Switzerland, and 10 days ago at Zagreb, Croatia.
“I don’t know, it’s always different things,” Noël said, adding of his quick starts “it means that I can be fast. But at the end we have to do two runs.”
World Cup overall standings leader Alexis Pinturault placed ninth, rising from 20th fastest in the morning run. He extended his points lead over Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the defending overall champion, and Marco Odermatt, who do not compete in slalom.
Kilde’s hopes to retain his title were put in doubt on Saturday when he injured a knee training in Austria. He told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, “I fear the worst.”
Flachau stepped in to host its first men’s slalom for nine years after two schedule changes this week.
Switzerland’s signature venue, Wengen, was ruled out on Monday from hosting its storied Lauberhorn meeting this weekend after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases likely caused by British tourists.
Kitzbühel, which stages its classic Hahnenkamm downhill next Saturday, was then slated to host its own slalom and Wengen’s this weekend. They were then switched to Flachau to give more time for virus tests in Kitzbühel.
Flachau hosted its traditional women’s night slalom on Tuesday — won by Mikaela Shiffrin — and is a flatter slope than usual for the men’s circuit.
“The slope for sure it’s not the best but it’s OK,” Noël said. ”But we are lucky to have a race.”
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