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Men’s World Cup slalom got underway with the season-opening race in Val d’Isere, France this weekend, and it was local favorite Clément Noël who stormed to victory. Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt, meanwhile, took command of the overall standings with a resounding giant slalom win in Saturday’s event. Here’s your play-by-play.
Men’s Val d’Isere Slalom, Dec. 12
The Val d’Isere races come as France and the Savoie region celebrate the 30th anniversary of hosting the 1992 Albertville Olympic Game. Three decades since those memorable Games, the Face de Bellevarde piste is still one of the most challenging on the World Cup circuit, testing the world’s premier ski racers with its steeps, tight turns, and lack of flow.
But the course gave Val d’Isere resident Noël no issue. The Frenchman, staving off any hometown pressure he may have felt, delivered a technically clean run to win Sunday’s slalom by an enormous 1.40-second margin over Swedish runner-up Kristoffer Jakobsen.
Noël saluted the French fans surrounding the bottom of the course shortly after crossing the finish, the victory never in doubt.
“It’s an amazing feeling, winning at home—it’s very different,” Noël said. “I already won in France, but now it’s in Val d’Isere. I live here and know so many people here, so it’s quite an emotional win.”
Watch: France’s Clement Noël wins opening slalom by a mile
Noël, who competes on French-made Dynastar skis, nabbed his ninth World Cup victory, and third on home snow in France, after triumphs in Chamonix each of the past two seasons.
It was an auspicious start for the 24-year-old French ski racer, who ended 112 points behind Austrian Marco Schwarz in last season’s slalom standings. Had it not been for three costly DNF’s, Noël would have likely raised his first crystal globe.
Schwarz, however, is still recovering from a torn ankle ligament sustained just over one month ago. The Austrian struggled to find his form in Sunday’s race and failed to qualify for the afternoon run.
Surprisingly, defending overall World Cup champion Alexis Pinturault, failed to qualify for a second run. A two-time winner of the event, the Frenchman was already one second behind Noël’s time at the second split before losing additional seconds towards the bottom of the course. He ultimately finished 2.90 seconds off the winning pace.
Sweden’s Jakobsen, making his comeback after knee surgery, and Croatian Filip Zubcic were second and third in Sunday’s race—first career slalom podiums for each.
Oregon’s Luke Winters was the highest-ranked U.S. finisher in Sunday’s slalom, placing 25th, 3.38 off Noël’s winning time.
Alex Vinatzer, who trailed Noël by .12 after the morning run, was on course to shake up the podium, had it not been for an untimely mishap with three gates to go in his final run. The 22-year-old Italian got tripped up, recovered acrobatically, but then skied on the wrong side of the final gate.
Men’s Val d’Isere Giant Slalom, Dec. 11
Odermatt charged to his second consecutive GS win of the season in Saturday’s giant slalom on the famed Face de Bellevarde track. Odermatt claimed his fourth career GS victory, and seventh total, by a sizable .59 seconds over Pinturault. Austria’s Manuel Feller rounded out the podium in third.
“Probably the worst preparation at a race that I’ve ever had,” Odermatt revealed after the race. “To still manage to ski like this, this is a really cool victory today.”
Odermatt also posted to Instagram, sharing his surprise at his victory. “Well, that was a little unexpected. Amazing feeling to bring the speed back home from America and fast GS turns as well.”
Watch: Switzerland’s Marco Odermatt bests Frances Alexis Pinturault in Val d’Isere GS
Colorado’s River Radamus laid down an excellent second run, the third-fastest of the 30-racer field, vaulting him 10 places to finish 13th place overall. Radamus’ expectations are lofty, coming off a career-best sixth at the season-opening GS in Sölden.
“What a hill! Wasn’t pretty, didn’t feel great and had plenty of mistakes, but I’m proud of the fight, stacked another solid result, we move, #13,” Radamus wrote on his Instagram.
With his victory, Odermatt became the first male racer to win the opening two giant slaloms of the season since American Ted Ligety last accomplished that feat in the 2013-’14 season. Odermatt’s win also sends a strong message to Pinturault in regards to clinching the overall title.
Switzerland’s rising star now leads Pinturault, who is currently fourth, by 241 points in the chase for the overall title. Odermatt, who doesn’t race slalom and skipped Sunday’s race, also holds a 136-point lead over his nearest challenger, Austrian speed specialist Matthias Mayer.
Odermatt will seek to increase his lead as the men’s World Cup season moves to Italy for the next speed races in Val Garden, Dec. 17-18,, before heading to nearby Alta Badia for consecutive giant slalom events.