Frenchman Clement Noel surged through the field on the second run to edge to victory and banish doubts in the World Cup slalom in Schladming, Austria, on Tuesday.
“It erases the worries,” he said after his first victory of the season in which he had finished only three of his previous seven slaloms and recorded one third-place finish.
The annual ‘Nightrace’ draws a crowd of some 45,000 to the Planai, a natural arena in the Styrian Alps.
On a misty evening, Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen led after the first run, 0.21sec ahead of local favourite Manuel Feller.
Noel, the reigning Olympic champion, was seventh, 0.77 seconds off the lead.
In the second run, with the slowest finishers from the first run going first, the times deteriorated with the snow.
Noel was only eighth fastest, but it was enough to leap into top spot. The time held up, by a tiny margin, as the skiers who followed struggled to maintain their line and rhythm on an icy surface.
Noel finished in a combined time of 1min 48.97sec, a slim 0.07sec ahead of Swiss Ramon Zenhaeusern.
“It feels really good, in the second run I managed to put things in the right order, to be in the fight, in the moment, natural, not thinking too much,” Noel said.
“My skiing was looser, more fluid.”
“That’s how I should ski but when you don’t have 100 per cent confidence sometimes you can’t ski like that.
“I never really doubted that I had the level to come back among the best, but I was frustrated by this beginning of the season where everything was going in the wrong direction. Kind of like last year, so I felt like I wasn’t learning from my mistakes.”
Norwegian Lucas Braathen was third at 0.38, and Feller dropped off the podium to fourth.
The tenth World Cup victory of Noel’s career comes as the 25-year-old prepares for the world championships on home snow in Courchevel and Meribel from February 6-19.