Austrians sweep interrupted men's World Cup slalom

GURGL, Austria -- Manuel Feller led an Austrian sweep of the podium at a men's World Cup slalom Saturday in a race that was interrupted by climate activists.

With five racers still to start their final run, a handful of protesters from the Last Generation movement entered the course just behind the finish line and sprinkled an orange-colored powder on the snow.

The activists were transported out of the finish area by security staff and police, while course workers cleaned the snow before the race resumed eight minutes later.

In a post on social network X, formerly Twitter, Last Generation said the action was a protest against governmental subsidies for fossil fuels.

The same group also protested prior to the previous World Cup race in Austria in October, when they blocked the only mountain road up to the glacier in Soelden as three protesters sat down for about 20 minutes, stopping fans in shuttle busses and cars trying to get to the venue for the season-opening giant slalom.

Men's race director Markus Waldner told Austrian TV that the International Ski and Snowboard Federation would reconsider its safety measures at races, with security staff better placed around the finish area to prevent spectators from entering the course.

Waldner added the race result had not been affected by the protest, although four of the five skiers who were made to wait at the start gate had disappointing second runs and finished outside the top seven.

However, Feller was not affected by incident and held on to his first-run lead to beat teammate Marco Schwarz by 0.23 seconds, while Michael Matt was 1.05 behind in third to complete the Austrian triple on the Kirchenkar course, a new venue on the circuit.

"It's important that there are people who stand up for such [issues]. On the other hand, if you enter the finish area here, you cannot hold any event anymore," Feller said about the climate activists. "In general, we should make sure that we change something, that's clear, but I think the sport of skiing is doing a good job in this respect."

Feller earned his third win on the World Cup circuit and ended an Austrian drought in men's slalom. No Austrian skier had won a slalom since Johannes Strolz triumphed in Adelboden in January 2022 -- a stretch of 17 races.

"For me this is incredibly cool," Feller said. "Nothing is nicer than winning, except winning with two teammates standing next to you on the podium."

It was the fourth sweep for the Austrian slalom team in a major race, and the first since Marcel Hirscher, Matt and Schwarz won the medals at the 2019 world championship race in Are, Sweden.

"Last year was difficult, and especially Michi had a rough season, so that the three of us are standing here is mega," said Schwarz, who posted the fastest second-run time to improve from a tie for fifth after the first run.

Britain's Dave Ryding finished fourth, and slalom world champion Henrik Kristoffersen was seventh. Fellow Norwegian Lucas Braathen, who won the World Cup slalom title last year, retired in October.

Clement Noel, the Olympic champion from France, was second after the opening run but dropped to 12th.

AJ Ginnis, who took silver at the world championships in February for Greece's first medal in winter sports at a major event, was the third-fastest starter in the first run before straddling a gate.

The slalom was the first men's race of the season to be completed. The GS in Soelden was canceled after 47 starters in the first run due to strong winds. Two cross-border men's downhills in Switzerland and Italy were called off last weekend amid strong winds and heavy snowfalls.

Last season, five of the first six events had to be canceled or rescheduled because of bad weather.

The next men's races are at Beaver Creek, Colorado, with two downhills and a super-G scheduled from Dec. 1-3.