Like an air of the world before in Val d’Isère (Savoie). Flags, fog horns, foreign accents… More than 4,000 spectators made the trip to the Savoy resort to attend the Critérium de la première neige, counting for the Alpine Skiing World Cup, Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 December .
“This is our pilgrimage at the start of the season”, rejoices Aline, 41, tricolor stamped on the cheeks. Last year, the test had to take place behind closed doors, Covid obliges. This time, we find the orchestra and the mulled wine. The smiles on the faces of the children… and that of their elders. Jacques, 83, has shining eyes: ” Hope it lasts “, launches the Mustache Savoyard, skis in hand.
“It reminds me of why I run errands, why I wake up early every day to weight training, why I work so hard. I think I forgot it last year ”, reassures the local of the stage, Victor Muffat-Jeandet, 11e of the giant on Saturday, but disqualified from the slalom on Sunday after having straddled a gate.
Until the last moment, uncertainty reigned over the holding of the downstream events. Not because of the pandemic, but the weather conditions. Val d’Isère is customary: the events are regularly canceled due to a lack or excess of snow, or because of a too strong wind. This time, fifty centimeters of snow fell the day before the competition. Enough to paralyze several traffic axes in the region, and greatly modify the track, already considered one of the most demanding on the circuit.
The snow groomers were therefore activated during the night, followed by 70 “Straighteners”, ski instructors responsible for making the track passable. A painstaking job in the freezing night, until sunrise. Tens of thousands of liters of water have also been “Injected” to harden the ice of this sloping track by almost 40% on average. “It’s a difficult snow, confided Alexis Pinturault on Saturday. And there is bad light, so we are a little on eggshells. Conditions like that, we have very rarely. “
Christmas king of the track
The public has therefore finally found its heroes, who are scrapping on the mythical Face de Bellevarde slope, a descent that we fear as much as we admire it. One of them is particularly acclaimed on Sunday afternoon. And for good reason: at 24, Clément Noël has just flown over the slalom to win with 1 second and forty hundredths ahead of the Swede Kristoffer Jakobsen.
On arrival, the public chants the name of the native of the Vosges to the tune of Highway to Hell. He is jubilant. “I knew the route by heart, I did it 100 times in my head, I was very confident before leaving, he describes. Winning in Val d’Isère has a special flavor. I lived here for a few years, my family is there. “” He’s already a great champion, this kid!, greet the head of the team Fred Perrin. He must take advantage of what he has done, because it is huge. “
→ PORTRAIT. Alpine skiing: His Majesty Alexis Pinturault
The day before, the pillar Alexis Pinturault, 30, signed his first podium of the season. Third Frenchman in history to win the big crystal globe (general classification of the World Cup) last March, he finished second in the giant, behind the untouchable Switzerland Marco Odermatt, already winner three times since the end of October. But “Pintu” disappointed Sunday, failing to qualify for the second round of the slalom, after a loss of downforce at the end of the race. A failure came to end a mixed weekend.
Beijing and uncertainty
In two months, the French champion should be in the race for gold in Beijing, the only metal missing from his Olympic Games record. The official selection of the Blues should not be announced until the end of January.
If his colleague Mathieu Faivre, 8th of the giant, says he has not yet the head to China, the Olympic deadline is fast approaching. The Minister for Sports Roxana Maracineanu was also present in the Savoy resort this weekend to encourage the troops.
The weekend results are “Auspicious” for the rest, comments the national technical director of French skiing Fabien Saguez. But the rest is emerging under unprecedented conditions: “No one got to see the Chinese tracks, although we usually do a lot of prospecting trips. We therefore have a little trouble understanding them. “ At the edge of the track, Aline, the spectator, summarizes: “The Olympics, we expect them, but we hope that they will not be disturbed by diplomatic or health issues …”