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Ramon Zenhaeusern goes from 8th to win season’s first slalom

Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup - Men's Slalom

ALTA BADIA, ITALY - DECEMBER 21 : Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men’s Slalom on December 21, 2020 in Alta Badia Italy. (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

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ALTA BADIA, Italy — Ramon Zenhaeusern won the first men’s World Cup slalom of the season on Monday, improving from eighth position after the opening run.

The Swiss skier beat two Austrians — Manuel Feller and Marco Schwarz — for his fourth career win, but first since March 2019.

First-run leader Alex Vinatzer dropped to fourth in the Italian’s first World Cup race after having surgery for appendicitis less than four weeks ago.

Zenhaeusern was 0.52 seconds off the lead after the first run and posting the 10th fastest time in the final run was enough for the win, 0.08 ahead of Feller and 0.12 ahead of Schwarz.

“It was so tight after the first run, I had to push full on,” Zenhaeusern said.

“I was really, really nervous, because I hadn’t raced since nearly 11 months. And now this, it’s really good. It shows you that all the work in these 11 months pays off.”

Daniel Yule and Michael Matt, who were second and third after the opening run, dropped to seventh and 15th, respectively, though they remained within a second of Zenhaeusern’s winning time.

Alexis Pinturault was 0.77 behind in 11th and the Frenchman strengthened his top position in the overall standings, as his main rival, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, doesn’t compete in slalom.

Slalom World Cup champion Henrik Kristoffersen finished sixth.

Slowed by tough snow conditions on the Gran Risa course, many favorites seemed surprised by their finishing times, with some racers shrugging their shoulders or spreading their arms in disbelief.

However, Feller improved from 13th by clocking the second-fastest time in the final run.

The Austrian struggled with persistent back problems last season, and he screamed “He is here again!” as soon as he crossed the finish.

“This is the most emotional moment of my career. Last season was incredibly exhausting and incredibly hurtful,” he said, adding the result gave him “satisfaction.”

“I thought my run might be good enough for fifth place and I would have been super happy with that,” said Feller, who has five career podium results but is yet to win a race.

Schwarz completed the strong showing of the Austrian team, trailing Feller by four hundredths in third.

Austria is still chasing a first win in a slalom or GS since record eight-time overall champion Marcel Hirscher retired in 2019.

Vinatzer lost his first-run lead as he posted the 23rd time in the final run, missing the podium by seven hundredths in fourth.

The Italian had surgery in November and missed a parallel World Cup event in Austria.

He attempted a comeback to racing in a slalom on the lower-ranked European Cup circuit last week but failed to finish his opening run of the event in Val di Passa, before skipping a second race at the same resort the following day.

But Vinatzer looked back to his best upon his return to the World Cup on Monday.

Competing on the World Cup since 2017, Vinatzer has recorded three top-10 results, with a third-place finish in Zagreb, Croatia in January his personal best.

The men’s slalom season is starting late following changes to the usual calendar amid anti-coronavirus measures.

A night slalom is scheduled in Madonna di Campiglio on Tuesday. A TV and live stream schedule is here.

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