CHAMONIX, France (AP) — Clément Noël got his first World Cup win in a year on Saturday, triumphing on home snow in the penultimate slalom before the world championships.
The French skier won three slaloms in each of the last two seasons but had been waiting for another victory since prevailing in Chamonix in February.
Returning to the same course Saturday, Noël improved from third position after the opening leg as the top two lost time in similar mistakes halfway through their final runs.
On a course softened by persistent rain, first-run leader Marco Schwarz dropped to third, 0.19 seconds behind Noël, while Ramon Zenhäusern remained in second and trailed by 0.16.
Schwarz had been fastest in a tight opening run, leading Zenhäusern by 0.02 and Noël by 0.03.
“It was pretty difficult. There were lots of bumps, lots of ruts. I’m usually not so good in that type of condition,” said Noël, adding he regretted his home race was without spectators amid anti-coronavirus measures.
“I’m just really, really happy to win this race today. It’s sad we have nobody to celebrate this with us but this was a cool moment.”
Zenhäusern’s Swiss teammate Luca Aerni posted the fastest time in the final run and climbed from 29th position to fourth.
The result marked Noël’s seventh career win in his fifth season on the World Cup tour.
The French slalom specialist had his breakthrough in 2018 when he claimed gold at the junior worlds and finished fourth in the Olympic slalom, before starting to win on the top level at the iconic venues in Wengen and Kitzbühel the following year.
His first win after nearly a year could hardly have come at a better moment, with the Feb. 8-21 worlds in Italy looming.
“It’s really important, for sure,” said Noël, who was looking forward to another slalom on Sunday.
“The last race before the world championships, you really want to be consistent, you really want to ski safe and fast.”
Schwarz, who leads the discipline standings ahead of Sebastian Foss-Solevåg of Norway, was on the podium in seven of this season’s eight slaloms and remained the only skier to have won more than once.
His Austrian teammate Manuel Feller, who previously led the slalom standings, failed to finish for a second straight race. Feller earned his first career win in Flachau two weeks ago but has recorded a 17th place and two DNFs since.
Overall World Cup leader Alexis Pinturault finished 0.89 behind in eighth. Schwarz climbed to second place in the standings, trailing the Frenchman by 266 points.
Henrik Kristoffersen, who won the slalom season title for a second time last year, continued his disappointing campaign, skiing out after a few seconds into his opening run as the Norwegian straddled the second gate.
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