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Noel trumps Hirscher in Kitzbuehel slalom

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Kitzbühel (Austria) (AFP)

France's Clement Noel followed up on his Wengen win to trump Austrian Marcel Hirscher with a stunning victory in the men's World Cup slalom in Kitzbuehel on Saturday.

Clement, who missed out on Olympic bronze at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games by four-hundredths of a second, was second after the first run and held his nerve on the second descent of the Ganslern slope to clock a combined 1min 45.53sec.

It was the towering 21-year-old's second World Cup victory after his Wengen triumph last weekend and just his third podium. He finished second in Adelboden earlier this month.

Hirscher, ninth after the first run, climbed to second with a storming second run, and finished 0.29sec adrift of Noel.

Another Frenchman, Alexis Pinturault, came third (+0.36), 0.17sec ahead of Norway's defending champion Henrik Kristoffersen.

"It sounds like a dream. I've had two amazing wins, in Wengen and now here," said Noel. "It's a perfect day, especially with Alexis on the podium, for the French team."

In snowy conditions, seven-time overall World Cup winner and current world slalom champion Hirscher, twice a winner in Kitzbuehel, looked to have snatched a third win with his superlative second run.

But in front of a huge crowd that included a cheering Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian bodybuilder/actor-cum-California governor, Noel belied his age and relative inexperience on the circuit down two testing tracks.

The last time a French skier won two consecutive races was in 2011 when double world slalom champion Jean-Baptiste Grange, who tore knee ligaments in Wengen last week, claimed victories in Kitzbuehel and Schladming.

"It feels really, really good," Noel said, refusing to get carried away. "I don't like to project myself on the future. I'll look at what happened today and enjoy that.

"I was nervous in Wengen in between the two runs," he added. "Today I was not so nervous. I have to be calm to ski fast. I don't really think about the result, I just ski, and I'm happy to have succeeded in the last two races."

Hirscher said he was more than satisfied with 80 points for second and his 134th podium career finish.

"I don't really know what happened in the first run, but I'm more than happy with second place," said Hirscher, who had been seeking a fifth victory of the season.

"Today was really more than I was expecting after finishing ninth in the first run. Eighty points is really perfect, I'm super excited for today," the Austrian said, describing Noel as "technically very brilliant".

Hirscher consolidated his massive lead of the overall standings, in which he has 1,116 points, with Kristoffersen second on 671 and Pinturault third (620).

Switzerland's Ramon Zenhaeusern was the leader after the first run, 0.12sec ahead of Noel. But the Olympic silver medallist made a mistake halfway down his second run on the steeply-pitched Ganslern slope to finish sixth, 0.85sec adrift.

Another two-time winner on the hill, Germany's Felix Neureuther, was 11th (+1.94), while Sweden's Olympic champion Andre Myrher was seventh (+0.88).

Bulgarian Alexander Popov, like Noel just 21, did incredibly well to finish fifth on the first run after starting with the unlikely bib number of 71.

A couple of small errors on the second run, however, saw Popov slip down the rankings. The Bulgarian eventually finished ninth, 1.05sec off Noel.

Racing will resume on Sunday when the skiers take to the Streif course for the super-G, rescheduled from its initial Friday slot and slated to start at 1230 GMT.

For the slalom specialists, such as Hirscher, it is an extra day off before the famed night race in Schladming on Tuesday.

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