Marcel Hirscher standing on the podium two tiers below his competitors is a rare sight to see. In the 2018/2019 season, the Austrian has won nine out of 13 races and his team has collectively won every speed and technical event so far in 2019. But Sunday in Wengen, the Austrian men relinquished their winning streak to an up and coming Frenchman, Clement Noel.
Noel is still considered “new” to the circuit. He earned his first career World Cup start in the 2016/17 season but did not consistently start to break the top ten until late last year. At 21, the reigning World Junior Champion in slalom had his first podium finish in the Adelboden slalom on January 13th. He finished second, a half a second behind Hirscher.
On Sunday in Wengen, he stole the win by a hair, 0.08 hundredths ahead of Austria’s Manuel Feller, and 0.10 tenths ahead of Hirscher. Having led the first run, 0.47 ahead of Feller, Noel gave himself just enough time to squeak out a win.
“I still can not believe it. It’s been a great day for me. It’s not easy at first because between the two runs it’s long and you have time to think a lot,” said Noel. “But I said to my coaches just before the second run I said I did a tough first run, so I have to enjoy and push on the second run and try to win this race. It was not so easy but I dealt with the pressure and that’s good.”
Manuel Feller has struggled to find the podium so far this season. He managed to grab third position in the Zagreb slalom, but otherwise has been unable to finish consistently. Out of the 13 races Feller has competed in throughout 2018/19, he has not finished in five races and made a few major mistakes that have cost him top ten finishes. In Wengen, he edged out Hirscher by two hundredths to earn his best finish of the season after being sick in bed for a majority of the week. Although he is happy with the result, Feller is still on the hunt to take his first World Cup victory.
“The last week was pretty tough for me, but I think for a slalom race you can always push yourself for two runs, that’s just 50 seconds. If it were GS, it would be way tougher because you need more breath and more power. For slalom it was okay, but now I’m pretty done,” said Feller. “I was second two years ago in the first run and then I was disqualified for straddling. Last year I was in fifth, and you can say what I’ve been but… let’s just say Wengen wasn’t my race until today. I’m super happy with my second race today. It was really good skiing with no mistakes, it couldn’t be better.”
Hirscher’s disappointment with his first run showed as he rushed out of the finish corral and marched over to his technician in frustration after a poor result. The Austrian finished almost a full second by Noel in the first run, leaving him in fifth and having to come from behind to acquire a spot on the podium (a rare dilemma for Hirscher). Although Hirscher won the second run by a landslide, it wasn’t enough to earn the overall win on Sunday.
“I’m happy with the third place but not with my skiing in my first run because the nine-tenths already after the first run is too much,” said Hirscher. “I made two small mistakes and this was already too much for the win for today. At least second run was much better. It was really a full attack and a 100 percent second run, but all and all I have to give congrats today to the young guns who came out.”
Despite disappointment with himself and his skiing, the 29-year-old Austrian was upbeat during the post-race press conference, making jokes about how he is getting old and is getting ready to pass the torch. He had nothing but good things to say about Noel after his first World Cup win, a skier who he sees as the future of the sport.
“He’s unbelievable. It’s not a big deal, I told you guys three or two years ago that this is one of the best and biggest talents we have in alpine ski racing. It is not a big surprise [he won],” commented Hirscher. “This guy is skiing brillant technically, wow. This guy is for the future really, he can be everything. I’m already a big fan of him.”
Henrik Kristoffersen finished in a disappointing fourth on Sunday after a major mistake in the second run cost him the podium. The Norweigan is still looking for a win this season. Overall he has finished on the podium six times out of 13 races.
The only American who competed in Wengen’s slalom was Benjamin Ritchie, an up and comer who recently won the slalom in Camp Fortune during the Canadian NorAm Cup series. Sunday was the 18-year-old’s first World Cup start. Unfortunately, he did not qualify for a second run.
Next stop on the men’s tour is Kitzbuehl, Austria for downhill and super-G the weekend of January 22nd-27th.
2. Manuel Feller (AUT): +0.08 – – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
3. Marcel Hirscher (AUT): +0.10 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
5. Daniel Yule (SUI): +0.74 – Fischer/Fischer/Fischer
10. Marco Schwarz (AUT): +1.54 – Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
For full FIS results, click here.