Slalom Sunday has been the traditional end to the weekend’s races in Kitzbuehel, Austra, for years. Mother Nature, however, had other plans in 2019 as slalom was instead held on Saturday, the day with the worst forecasted weather of the three race days in Kitzbuehel.
With inspection getting underway at sunrise, the Ganslern slope was dimly lit as heavy snowfall accumulated on the injected ice of the course. A complicated set with several strung together combinations made for some interesting skiing in the morning as some of the discipline’s top names found themselves further back in the standings than we would usually expect them to be.
Switzerland’s Ramon Zenhaeusern set the pace in run one and was followed closely by last week’s winner in Wengen, 21-year-old Frenchman Clement Noel. Slalom titans Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen sat in ninth and 11th, respectively after the first run, nearly a full second off the pace each.
Second run saw both Hirscher and Kristoffersen step up in a big way with Kristoffersen jumping up to fourth overall and Hirscher managing to best everyone but Noel at the end of the race as the Frenchman won his second slalom in a row in dramatic fashion by 0.29 seconds over Hirscher. France’s Alexis Pinturault rounded out the podium in third, 0.36 seconds back, and Zenhaeusern settled for sixth place after a mistake-laden second run.
“I know [Hirscher] did a really great second run, I saw it on the TV, and I knew I have to be really fast and I don’t have to control the second run so I tried and succeeded and that’s it,” a cool Noel said after the race.
“It’s perfect,” he added. “I don’t really know from my emotions because it’s been a long day but a magic day. I don’t know how to describe this but a win here in Kitzbuehel with so much people; the atmosphere was amazing, thanks to everyone who came here, especially the French people. It was perfect. I’m really happy to manage the second run like this and to win this race, it’s incredible.”
With wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel — two of the most prestigious slaloms on tour — now under his belt, Noel will now look to go for three in a row on Tuesday night at the Night Race in Schladming, Austria.
“For the moment I think I enjoy this day, enjoy every moment because it’s not usual for me and maybe after tomorrow I will think about Schladming,” Noel said.
The Austrian fans who packed the slope on Saturday were no doubt hoping that the winningest Austrian skier ever would pull off the win in front of the home crowd. At the end of the day, however, Hirscher considered himself lucky to finish on the podium at all after his lackluster first run performance.
“I think it was really more than what I was expecting after the first run,” Hirscher said. “The second run was way better and the first run was definitely a bad feeling from the first gate to the last gate but I am super happy to be on the podium once again. I think it was definitely a great race and I am super happy because so many people here want to see me at least on the podium. I’m sure they want to see me winning but it was not one-hundred percent perfect but being on the podium is good, especially here in Kitzbuehel.”
When asked if it was different for him to be racing slalom in Kitzbuehel on a Saturday, Hirscher said that regardless of what day it is, race day in Kitzbuehel is always something special.
“There were more people but at the end of the day it’s always the same; blue gates, red gates, rowdy, loud, goosebumps, adrenaline,” he said.
Pinturault has been enjoying a resurgence in slalom this season as the Frenchman has finished on the podium twice and is now ranked sixth in the discipline standings. Pinturault is the winningest French skier of all time with 21 World Cup victories and had some very flattering words to say about his young teammate at the post-race press conference.
“I think I’m in the middle of the two generations right now,” explained Pinturault. “The older generation like Felix (Neureuther) and Ted (Ligety), I was on the podium with them and now there is Clement, who was born in 1997. Of course, I still have some years to come but I’m really happy about my result today and for sure, two Frenchman is something very special. Clement is for the future in slalom, definitely the future of this discipline.”
The U.S. Ski Team had no starters for Saturday’s slalom, a first since no American male slalom skiers qualified for World Cup Finals last season in Are, Sweden, which was ultimately cancelled due to bad weather. The U.S. Ski Team has been quite lean on the men’s the slalom side this season, a strategic decision based on better developing younger talent, according to the U.S. Ski Team.
“In a continued effort to focus on development as result of findings from Project 26, many of our technical skiers are competing in FIS, NorAm and Europa Cup races to lower their points and make team criteria,” said U.S. Ski Team Alpine Director, Jesse Hunt, in a statement to Ski Racing Media. “Promising athletes like Ben Ritchie, who recently won his first slalom NorAm and started in his first World Cup race in Wengen, as well as World Junior Championship medalists River Radamus and Luke Winters – who have had multiple World Cup starts this season – have had valuable exposure to the biggest stage in the sport and it is vital to manage their program appropriately so they are set up for success in the future.”
The next men’s slalom is Tuesday, January 29, in Schladming, Austria.
The men now race super-G in Kitzbuehel on Sunday, January 27.
- Clement Noel (FRA)- Dynastar/Lange/Look
- Marcel Hirscher (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Alexis Pinturault (FRA)- Head/Head/Head
- Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Marco Schwarz (AUT)- Atomic/Atomic/Atomic
- Ramon Zenhaeusern (SUI)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Andre Myhrer (SWE)- Head/Head/Head
- Michael Matt (AUT)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
- Albert Popov (BUL)- Head/Head/Head
- Christian Hirschbuehl (AUT)- Rossignol/Rossignol/Look
For complete FIS results, please click here.