Clement Noel has made quite the name for himself in Wengen. In 2019, he won the first World Cup race of his career at the venue. On Sunday, he won again, by 0.40 seconds over Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen. Noel laid down a first run that was untouchable from the start, as he was the first man to make his way down the track. His speed was remarkable, so much so that he was able to hang on to the lead by a significant margin, even after skiing the 17th fastest second run. Skiing slalom in Wengen, athletes never quite know what they’re going to get, as the course changes so often throughout. But that’s why Noel loves it so much because it’s challenging.
“It’s the kind of slope that’s really technical. You have to be really technical and really strong. There are some flat parts and some steep parts and some movement on the slope. It’s a difficult slope and I like it,” he laughed. “It’s never easy, I just try to push out and do my best, and on some slopes and in some conditions I can be the fastest man.”
Noel has been skiing on the World Cup circuit for the past three years. His first result in Wengen came in 2018, where he finished 23rd. The following weekend in Kitzbuehel, he broke into the top 10 for the first time in eighth, and stayed there for the rest of his career, until winning in Wengen in 2019 at the age of 21. Noel has seemingly found his groove on some of the most technical tracks on the circuit, enough so that in 2020 he is in the running for the slalom crystal globe. But Noel isn’t much for setting long term goals, especially when it comes to winning the slalom overall title. He skis because he enjoys it, and doesn’t have much explanation as to why he is skiing so fast so consistently. He never intended to ski on the World Cup, in his eyes he’s just here because he happened to be fast, and found the speed exhilarating.
“Slalom is really different because it’s really fast and you have no room for error because you can DNF really fast. So you have to be really focused, like a robot. Left, right, left, right, left, right,” explained Noel. “It’s uh…not like dancing but it’s a feeling, a vibe, and I really enjoy it. If I love skiing, and if I’m a good skier, I have to continue in this way. I’ve continued until now, and that’s it.”
Despite just missing the podium, Swiss slalom team still managed to put on quite the show on Sunday. Daniel Yule made up for a slower first run to tie his teammate, Ramon Zenhaeusern for fifth. Tanguy Nef finished eighth, 1.05 seconds off of Noel’s winning time, and Loic Meillard finished 10th, 1.32 seconds back.
Having back-to-back home races in Switzerland means the guy’s schedules are packed full of various events and media obligations outside of the race. And Saturday night after the downhill, the Swiss fans give the party everything they have. For slalom skiers, it’s tough to sleep the night before their big race. Despite all the chaos, Yule says that the positive energy at home races is something he feeds off of and in his second run, the 26-year-old channeled that energy to break into the top five.
“I think the Swiss fans in general, for everybody who races in Adelboden and here in Wengen they always create a great atmosphere,” said Yule. “For me, as a Swiss guy to have a home race, it’s always a great pleasure. We really want to win every race and that doesn’t change much, there’s just a little more things going on next to the slopes. There’s way more media the days before the race and whenever we go up on the chairlift or are just walking around people say ‘hey Daniel good luck and everything’ but that’s all positive things, it gives me energy so I wouldn’t say there’s more pressure.”
“When you want to get somewhere you can’t get anywhere fast when you’re a Swiss ski racer in Switzerland. But you just need to accept it. It’s usually annoying when [the fans] are a little bit drunk in the evening, we know what the parties are like at ski races,” added Yule, laughing. “But otherwise, it’s honestly a great pleasure I couldn’t be happier to have ski races in Switzerland.”
The American men, on the other hand, had a tougher day than the Swiss. Luke Winters had been skiing a solid run until hitting the pitch, a notoriously steep section of the course that makes Wengen one of the most technical tracks on the World Cup slalom circuit. From there, Winters did not finish his second run. His teammates did not finish as well, aside from Ben Ritchie, who had his first World Cup start in Wengen last season, although he did not qualify for a second run.
Winters has had the spotlight on him for the past couple of races, as he has been leading the up-and-coming U.S. men’s slalom team onto the World Cup, opening up spot by spot with each top 30 finish. But Winters is still learning. Sunday was the 22-year-old’s first World Cup race in Wengen, as this is his first season really dedicated to skiing on the World Cup tour. Even though he’s disappointed to not have gotten a whack at a second run, Wengen marks another opportunity for him to grow as an athlete. Winters is currently focused on trying to learn when and where to step on the gas, and when and where to step on the brakes. He feels like he has the mental side close to dialed in, having had a couple of opportunities to experience some extra pressure in Adelboden and Val d’Isere. Now it’s about learning how to tackle each course and its unique attributes.
“I was happy with how I went out of the gate, especially after the second run in Adelboden when I wasn’t pushing like I needed to, I thought I did that today,” explained Winters. But I didn’t change gears coming over the pitch and kind of lost it from there down. It was my first time on the hill and there’s a lot to learn here. There’s always something going on. There’s always a roll or a side hill or a super steep pitch or a part where it’s super flat that makes it so there’s not a lot of rhythm. I have a feeling that Kitzbuehel is gonna feel a lot like that.”
Winters has also not yet skied Kitzbuehel or Schladming, two other notoriously technical slalom tracks that are right around the corner. He’s thankful to have had the opportunity to ski Wengen right before entering the scene that is Kitzbuehel, knowing what he needs to work on to continue carrying speed into that course.
“I know I’m fast, I know I can ski well and keep up with those guys. I just gotta find that gear,” said Winters. “For example, coming over the pitch, you gotta change gears a little bit because you’re not gonna win it on the pitch. It’s so steep and you can get your speed up so fast but if you can ski a couple good turns then you can take your speed off the pitch. I tried to bring the intensity onto the pitch and I didn’t need to. I’m really looking forward to going into Kitzbuehel and Schladming especially after the next few days of training because I think I’m going to be able to dial in some equipment stuff and really find that next gear.”
Looking ahead, the weekend in Kitzbuehel kicks off with the men’s downhill on Saturday, January 25th, followed by the men’s slalom on Sunday, January 26th. From there, the slalom men will ski in Schladming on Tuesday, the 28th.
- 1. Clement Noel (FRA): 1:46.43
- 2. Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR): +0.40
- 3. Alexander Khoroshilov (RUS): +0.83
- 4. Sebastian Foss-Solevaag (NOR): +0.85
- 5. Daniel Yule (SUI): +0.90
- 5. Ramon Zenhaeusern (SUI): +0.90
- 7. Marco Schwarz (AUT): +0.91
- 8. Tanguy Nef (SUI): +1.05
- 9. Jean-Baptiste (FRA): +1.23
- 10. Loic Meillard (SUI): +1.32
For full race results, click here.