French skier Noël opens slalom season with dominating win

VAL d’ISÈRE, France , Dec 12 (AP) — French skier Clément Noël dominated the first slalom of the World Cup season Sunday for his ninth career win as many other pre-race favourites faltered, including his teammate and defending overall champion, Alexis Pinturault.

Noël defied challenging course conditions on the Face de Bellevarde as he posted the fastest time in both runs, finishing 1.40 seconds ahead of Kristoffer Jakobsen for the Swedish skier’s first career podium.

Filip Zubcic of Croatia was 1.85 behind in third.

“It’s amazing. Winning at home is something really different,” said Noël, who used to live in Val d’Isère.

“I already won in France but now it’s in Val d’Isère. I know so many people here, so it’s quite an emotional win,” he added.

While Noël skied a technically near-perfect first run, he called the second “a big fight.”

“It was an incredible day. This race was perfect,” he said.

Noël finished runner-up in the slalom standings in each of the past three seasons. He was the 2018 junior world champion, but has failed to win a medal at the World Championships or Olympics.

“It’s the best way to start the new season,” Noël said.

“For the first race, no one knows if we are fast or not fast, and the real truth is the race. So today I know that I can be fast and I have so much confidence for the future,” he added.

Alex Vinatzer, who trailed Noël by just .12 after the opening run, was disqualified in the second after the Italian lost his balance at the end of his run and passed the final gate on the wrong side.

Slalom world champion Sebastian Foss-Solevåg of Norway dropped from third to sixth position after he caught a bump and nearly skied out early in his second run.

Pinturault, a two-time winner of the event, went out after the first run.

The Frenchman was already a second off Noël’s time at the second check point of his opening run and lost additional time on a tricky passage near the bottom of the course to finish 2.90 behind, failing to make it into the top 30 who qualify for a second run.

Marco Schwarz, who won the slalom season title last year, also failed to qualify for the second run. Having missed weeks of training due to an ankle injury, the Austrian was 2.53 off the lead.

Austrian skier Adrian Pertl, last season’s World Championships silver medalist in slalom, missed the race a day after he injured his right knee in a giant slalom. The Austrian ski federation said Sunday that Pertl needs surgery for a torn ACL and damaged meniscus.

Marco Odermatt, who won Saturday’s GS but doesn’t compete in slalom, remained in the lead of the overall standings.