Swiss skier Zenhaeusern leads French duo in 1st slalom run

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              Austria's Marcel Hirscher competes during an alpine ski, men's World Cup slalom, in Kitzbuehel, Austria, Saturday Jan. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
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KITZBUEHEL, Austria (AP) — Clement Noel wasted little time in confirming his status as one of slalom skiing’s hottest prospects.

Six days after winning his first World Cup in Wengen, the 21-year-old French skier added a victory at another iconic venue on Saturday.

Skiing in dense snowfall, Noel won the slalom event of the Hahnenkamm races, posting the third-fastest time in the final run to beat seven-time overall champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 0.29 seconds.

“It sounds like a dream,” Noel said. “It were two amazing weeks. It’s really special in Kitzbuehel, there is so many people in the finish area. I have never seen something like this. It’s a perfect day.”

Noel’s French teammate Alexis Pinturault was 0.36 behind in third, followed by last year’s winner, Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway, in fourth.

First-run leader Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland made several mistakes in his final run and the Olympic silver medalist dropped to sixth.

Noel became the first French skier to win back-to-back slaloms since former two-time world champion Jean-Baptiste Grange won two races in three days, in Kitzbuehel and Schladming, eight years ago.

Last week in Switzerland, Noel had to defend an opening-run lead for the first time in a World Cup race, and mastered the task. On Saturday, he kept his nerves again when chasing another podium result.

“(Wengen was) the first time that I was leading. I was not used to it,” he said. “But today I was not nervous. When I am calm I can ski fast, so I always try to stay calm at the start.”

Noel’s wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel are crowning a breakthrough month for the French skier, who won the junior world title last year.

He finished fourth in Zagreb in the first week of January and just missed out on his first win a week later, coming runner-up to Hirscher in Adelboden for his first podium result.

“It feels really, really good,” Noel said. “For now, I just enjoy the moment. I hope it will continue this way but you never know.”

Teammate Pinturault called it “really special” to share the podium with Noel.

“He is definitely the future of this discipline,” said Pinturault, who has 21 World Cup victories.

Noel’s recent results have come as anything but a surprise to Hirscher, who won the slalom World Cup five times in the past six seasons.

“The first time I saw him, you could see he is technically really brilliant,” the Austrian said.

Hirscher had won 11 of the previous 14 slaloms, but was not in the lead after the first run for a fifth straight race. The Austrian trailed by 0.88 in ninth, but clocked the fastest time in a frenetic final run, which saw him climb seven places in the standings.

“It was really more than I expected after the first run. It’s pretty OK and I am super happy with 80 points. It’s not easy at the moment,” he said.

Hirscher’s main slalom rival in recent years, Henrik Kristoffersen, was 0.92 off going into the final run, and posted the second-fastest time to finish fourth. The Norwegian’s last World Cup win came in Kitzbuehel a year ago.

Hirscher remained top of the discipline standings with 576 points, followed by Noel on 401 and Kristoffersen on 369.

Apart from the snowfall, the icy surface and a tough course set in the first run made for difficult conditions on the Ganslernhang. Only 40 from 79 starters managed to finish their runs.

Manuel Feller, who finished runner-up to Noel last week, posted the fourth-fastest time but the Austrian was later disqualified for straddling a gate.

Bulgarian skier Albert Popov, who had only scored World Cup points in two previous races and started 71st, came a surprising fifth in the opening run. Popov ultimately finished ninth for his career-best result. He had won a lower-ranked FIS slalom in Val Palot, Italy, on Wednesday in preparation for the Hahnenkamm slalom.

The slalom was moved from its initial slot on Sunday after organizers had brought forward Saturday’s classic downhill to Friday to avoid the marquee event being affected by the weather. A super-G wraps up the 79th Hahnenkamm event on Sunday.