Noel survives the pressure to win in Wengen, Ryding 8th

Twenty one year old Val d'Isere resident, Clement Noel stepped up from second in Adelboden to add a World Cup win to his fourth place at the Olympics and World Junior Title (from 2018). The French racer posted the fastest first run time ahead of Manuel Feller and Henrik Kristoffersen by a comfortable margin. How he dealt with the pressure after the first run was truly impressive as he held on to win from Feller and Hirscher, who had been almost a second off the pace after the first run.

The French team are experiencing a renaissance these days. JB Grange, Victor Muffat Jeandet, Alexis Pinturault and Julien Lizeroux are all in the mix most races as well as Noel. With only four places available for the World Championships, the pressure of making results is pushing all six racers on to greater things. Noel was second in Adelboden a week ago and is a truly talented athlete.

Starting outside the top seven racers in Wengen was probably a blessing. 4,500 cubic litres of water have been injected into the slope and it was icy. Going early was not a huge advantage and Noel started ten. Manuel Feller had also started out of the opening seven top seeds (8) to have posted the second best time on the run with Kristoffersen in third, Pinturault in fourth and Hirscher tied with Michael Matt for fifth, albeit 0.91 behind Noel.

Come the second run and Marco Schwartz took the lead going into the TV break after the first fifteen but was shunted out of the leaders enclosure by Dave Ryding straight after the TV break. before Ryding could even get his coat on, Austrian Christian Hirschbuel had gone faster.

Then the pressure on the racers started to tell. Foss-Soelvaag, Moelgg, Hadalin and Myhrer all posted slower times. Coming into the race Ryding had explained that if he could beat his best of 12th, he would be happy. With the snow starting to peel away, the TV break saw the weather warm up.

Daniel Yule then gave the Swiss hope of a home win before Stefano Gross went behind Ryding and then Matt went behind Yule. This was edge of the seat racing and had the 16,700 fans along the course enthralled.

Hirscher was next down and gave his customary second run charge to post the fastest time and take the lead. Was history repeating itself? He has won from a second run charge in Zagreb and Adelboden since the New Year and this was impressive racing. Hirscher was charging and risking everything, there was no compromise - it was win or bust. He crossed the line to take the lead but still had four racers to wait for at the start.

Alexis Pinturault was the first of these. Pinturault is a reborn slalom racer. he has fought back into the top seven seeds and was flying. A mistake on the last flat and he was out of the equation. He crossed the line but it was too far off the pace. Still Hirscher lead from Yule and Matt.

Next up was Henrik Kristoffersen. The Norwegian has beaten Hirscher on single runs this season but has not managed it over the course of a race. The light was green for him all the way apart from the last and most important one. A mistake at the same place as Pinturault cost him dear and he dropped in behind Hirscher. He must wonder what he has to do to beat the Austrian.

This left Feller and Noel at the start. Feller is another that tries hard to better his compatriot. He too has beaten Hirscher on first runs before not being able to keep the lead. He has an immense amount of talent to boot but....

This time it looked as though he may just have carried it off as he crossed the line with the green light showing. Maybe, just maybe this would be his day. Maybe Feller could provide a complete whitewash of the wins for Austria. His complete joy in being in the lead with one to go was there for all to see.

There was still one racer to go. Clement Noel would be racing the course set by his coach who had admitted it was hard to set a course knowing that your athlete was leading.

"It's not so easy when you're alone on the start. There's lots of pressure," explained Noel, who had never lead a World Cup race before.

If he had nerves, he let his skiing do the talking. Yes he made a few mistakes but he had a lead that allowed these to happen. When he crossed the line it was his win. At 21 years old, France had a new hero and gave the rest of the French slalom team a headache. Who else will be going to Are along with this supreme talent for the World Champs?

As for Dave Ryding, he ended up in a really positive eighth place. After the race he gave Racer Ready the low down...

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