Posted by Editoress on 06/21/09
The spring round of the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup concluded on Sunday in Maribor, Slovenia, with the fifth round of the Gravity events, consisting of the 4-Cross and Downhill. After rain all day on Saturday caused the postponement of the Downhill qualifying and led to a very slippery and muddy 4-Cross, Sunday dawned bright and sunny for a long day of downhill racing.
Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) increased her lead in the women's standings with a fourth consecutive victory, the first of four French riders on the podium, while three time world champion Fabien Barel (Subaru) announced his return from a knee injury by becoming the first non-Sanata Cruz Syndicate rider of the year to win a World Cup. Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took over the World Cup lead from his team mate Steve Peat after the Englishman flatted on his run. Steve Smith (MS Evil) had Canada's top result, qualifying sixth for the men and finishing seventh, his best ever World Cup result.
Floriane Pugin (Iron Horse-Kenda-Playbiker), the tenth rider down, set the first fast time of the day for the final, over 20 seconds ahead of the previous best time of Fionn Griffiths (Norco World Team). Pugin's time was so fast that only two riders would beat her - Jonnier and Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center), the fastest in qualifying.
Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing), the winner of round one was well back, after crashing near the top of her run, and Myriam Nicole of France came within 12 seconds of Pugin, but it took Jonnier to finally displace her young French rival, and she did it with the first sub-3:40 ride, at 3:39.59 . There was only one rider left by this time - Ragot - and the former Junior world champion came through the first intermediate timer two-hundredths of a second ahead of Jonnier. However, Ragot lost four-tenths of a second in the lower portion of the run, to finish 0.31 seconds down on Jonnier. Celine Gros (Morzine-Avoriaz 74) took fourth, while Mio Suemasa of Japan took the final podium spot, breaking the French stranglehold. Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction) was the only Canadian to race, finishing tenth, 27.53 seconds behind Jonnier.
"I wasn't super happy about my race run," revealed Jonnier, "because I made many mistakes, and didn't really think that I had done enough to win. But I'm glad that I changed back to my favourite Maxxis High Rollers from the 2.5 Wetscreams after qualifying, because the track was drying out quickly and conditions changed in favour of dry tires."
Jonnier's win puts her at 1132 points, 197 ahead of Ragot and 322 in front of Moseley with three races remaining in the World Cup. Buchar remains 11th in the overall standings, at 290 points.
Markus Pekoll (Solid AClass Factory Team), the seventh rider off in the men, was the first to enjoy the Hot Seat for any length of time, keeping the lead through a quarter of the field before Nathan Rankin (Iron Horse-Kenda-Playbiker) finally bumped him out of the lead. However, Rankin had only a short time at the top before a succession of riders started cutting the fastest time by tenths or hundredths of a second. One rider who, surprisingly, didn't take the lead was Chris Kovarik (Chain Reaction), who finished well off the pace.
It took Matti Lehikoinen (MS Evil) to finally make a significant cut in the leading time, with his 3:08.81 the first time to beat world champion Gee Atherton's (Animal Commencal) best qualifying time. Lehikoinen's time began to look particularly good as rider after rider in the top 25 came close to, but could not beat it. Fabien Pedemanaud (Scott 11) eventually managed to knock two-tenths of a second off, but his reign was shortlived, with Barel starting two spots behind him.
Finally, with 13 riders remaining, it was Barel's turn. The Frenchman, in only his second race back after dislocating his knee before the World Cup opener, left the start house wearing a knee brace for support. Hoping to save his season, Barel has finished seven weeks of intensive therapy and strengthening exercises, so that he can compete and not require surgery until the end of the season.
Barel is clearly on a superb run, three seconds ahead by the first time split, five seconds ahead at the second, and 5.28 seconds faster by the finishline. He was also the first rider to surpass 50 kilometres an hour at the speed trap near the bottom of the course.
There were still some big names to go, but it was starting to look like this might be Barel's day after Greg Minnaar could get no closer than two seconds to Barel. The biggest threat was likely to be two-time Maribor champion Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized), and he did indeed start strong, clipping over and a second and a half of of Barel's time for the first split. But then he started to slow in the lower half of the course, only three-hundredths ahead at the second, and finishing 71-hundredths down at the finish, bumping Minnaar to third.
Peat, the World Cup leader, who qualified third fastest, was the next to look like he had a real shot at dislodging Barel, when he also went faster at the first split, but the English rider suffered a rear flat in the second half of the course, and did well to finish 38th, 12.61 seconds down.
There were two riders remaining - Justin Leov (Trek World Racing), who was fast enough to slot into fourth, and the final rider, Gee Atherton. Atherton ahead at the first time split and only five-hundredths slower at the second. This looked to be a very tight finish, until disaster struck in the final wooded section, when Atherton hit the outside edge of a rutted turn and crashed, losing precious seconds and dropping back to finish 12th.
Barel was almost disbelieving of his victory. "I'm just back from this injury, I didn't expect a race like this. I was just trying to put together a consistent run, and I still feel like I am struggling. It is just like a dream."
Peat's flat cost him dearly, dropping him 79 points behind his team mate Minnaar's 914 points in the overall standings, while Hill moves up from fifth to third, 125 points behind Minnaar. Atherton, the former third placed rider in the series, is 13 points points behind Hill, while Mick Hannah (GT Bicycles), who missed his first podium of the season, dropped to fifth at 723 points. Steve Smith has moved up from tenth to ninth in the overall standings, with 411 points.
The World Cup now takes its first extended break of the season, for five weeks, before resuming with a pair of triples in Mont Ste Anne and Bromont, Canada.
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