Posted by Editoress on 07/24/10
Atherton and Ragot win in Champery
Our coverage made possible with the support of Shimano
The race for the World Cup titles in both the men's and women's Downhill tightened up on Saturday, at round four in Champéry, Switzerland. Gee Atherton (Commencal) took his second win of the season to pull to within 13 points of Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), while world champion Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center) took the first World Cup victory of her career and jumped into third in the women's overall standings behind leader Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain).
The rain, which had turned the steep 1500 metre course into a slippery mud slide during qualifying, finally backed off for race day, but the damage had been done and, in some ways, the drying conditions made things worse. As the thick mud began to dry, it clung to bikes and turned to the consistency of peanut butter, doubling the weight of bikes and slowing forward momentum to a crawl. For the lighter, less powerful women, it was the worst, with riders literally coming to a halt in some corners as they pushed on the ground with their feet to keep moving.
"It was really tough," commented Atherton. "You know, some races you really enjoy, and others it's a battle the whole time. This I was just fighting the whole way, the run was hard work, it was like a battle from top to bottom. It was a matter of just finding that line, hanging it out and having it pinned, and not pushing too hard and crashing. I guess I was right on that line and right on the limit the whole time. I was half crashing all the way down the hill, just holding on, and luckily I got it dialed."
Minnaar had similar comments: "It was like Scalelectrix [model electric cars], it was one big rut the whole way down, so you just had to balance well and ride the rut as best you could."
In the women's race, Floriane Pugin (Scott 11) set the first fast, sub-6 minute time. Canada's Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction/Intense) also went under six minutes, but was more than 16 seconds behind Pugin. The young French rider stayed in the Hot Seat until the final three riders came down, with Ragot racing third from last and knocking over eleven and a half seconds off the top time. Jonnier was next, and moved into second, still nearly five seconds behind Ragot, and the fastest qualifier, Myriam Nicole (Commencal Superiders) slotted into third.
"I was a real balance not to fall, [because] the mud was very sticky," explained Ragot. "I kept saying 'go slow, go slow, go slow' ... but not too slow or you will fall over! The end [of the course] it was terrible ... I had a rock caught between my frame and my tire. It made a terrible noise. But now I feel good. I have been waiting for a win."
Jonnier now has 850 points to Pugin's 645, with Ragot up to 615 points.
In the men's race, only six riders occupied the Hot Seat, starting with the first rider on the course, Ben Cathro, who held the lead for nearly a third of the field before being unseated by Ruaridh Cunningham (Chain Reaction/Intense). Cunningham knocked an impressive 16-plus seconds off of Cathro's time, and was in the Hot Seat for 20 riders before his team mate Chris Kovarik bumped him by mere four-hundredths of a second. Kovarik held on for 18 riders until U.S. champion Aaron Gwin (Yetis Fox Shox) took the lead down another two seconds.
At this point there were 20 riders still to race, but when Minnaar came through the finish six riders after Gwin and nearly nine seconds faster, it started to look like the World Cup leader had shaken off a poor qualifying run and was on track for his third victory of the season.
However, the South African knew better: "My training run was terrible ... getting stuck in the gate with the rain [starting], there's not much we could do about it. But ... a result's a result, so you just have to move on and try your best and turn it into a positive. So I'm glad to turn it around and improve on that 15th in qualifying. I knew my time was beatable, and not a race-winning run. I'd made costly mistake on an easy section, and I knew I'd lost a lot of time in there, but it was hard to make no mistakes on this track."
Minnaar was correct, as Atherton was fastest through both intermediate splits and flew into the finish nearly three seconds faster than his rival. Only top qualifier Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International) was left to ride, and he could not match Atherton's run, slotting into fourth behind Brendan Fairclough (Monster Energy Specialized).
"I'm pretty stoked to put that time in on that track," agreed Atherton. "I knew Greg had the Hot Seat, and I knew I had my work cut out, and that it was going to be hard to knock him off. It is my second win of the season and I am over the moon right now."
Minnaar continues to lead the World Cup standings with 830 points but, due to his poor qualifier and Atherton's win and second place in qualifying, the British rider is only 13 points back with two races to go.
"I'm holding onto the [World Cup] lead by the skin of my teeth at this point," commented Minnaar, "and with two to go, it's not much of a gap. Gee and I will have to fight it out right to the end."
- Nico Vink crashed hard in the men's race, hitting his helmet on the ground. It led to a 20 minute delay while he was airlifted out.
- Claire Buchar was the top Canadian finisher of the day, in seventh place. National champion Micyala Gatto was 16th after a crash-filled run, and Steve Smith (Evil Bikes) was the only Canadian to make the men's final, finishing 40th. Yann Gauvin just missed qualifying for the men's final after finishing 84th the day before.
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