Posted by Editoress on 08/7/11
Downhill World Cup number in six La Bresse, France, saw Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) soldify her lead in the women's standings with her fourth win of the year, while her team mate Aaron Gwin locked up the men's title after finishing third behind Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate). Steve Smith (Devinci) finished seventh, and moved up one spot to fourth in the overall men's standings, passing Danny Hart (Giant).
Moseley now leads second place finisher, and second ranked, Floriane Pugin (Scott 11) by 150 points going into the final round, in two weeks time. Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) continues her comeback, posting a season-high third at the course she won on in 2009.
After a dry run during qualifying a day earlier, the rain moved in and soaked the course all night and the morning of the final, changing lines and sending riders scrambling for spiked tires. While it was not raining during the women's race, there were still plenty of slippery sections and water-filled ruts to give riders problems.
Junior World Cup leader Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) set the first fast time, and held onto the lead until one of the favourites, Rachel Atherton (Commencal), smashed her time by nearly five and a half seconds, to finish in 2:46.385. Atherton had crashed in training and just rolled the start of the qualifier, so she rode much earlier than usual. Atherton's time was even more impressive given that she slipped on one of the singletrack sections low on the course and laid her bike down momentarily.
Atherton retained the lead until Jonnier, third in qualifying, posted the first sub-2:40 time. The French rider, cheered on by thousands of compatriots, was 1.1 seconds up at the first time split, 1.8 seconds ahead at the second, and then completely crushed the lower section to finish over 8.5 seconds ahead at the finish line.
Pugin, one of only two riders to beat Moseley this year (Atherton is the other), was expected to offer the greatest threat to Moseley, but she struggled with the pedaling section at the top of the course, nearly 3.5 seconds behind Jonnier. By the second split she had improved to only four-tenths of a second back, but was miniscule one-hundredth of a second ahead of Jonnier at the finish; not the run she was looking for.
Moseley, on the other hand, stepped up her game for the final, and was fastest through every section of the course, despite hitting a big puddle near the top, which temporarily blinded her. The world champion finished nearly five seconds ahead of her French rival, to extend her lead in the overall competition to 150 points, with Atherton third, a further 235 points behind.
"It didn't feel that good at the start, that's probably the worst start I've every had at a World Cup" confirmed Moseley. "I took a line that absolutely drenched me, there wasn't a puddle there before today. I was soaked, through the helmet ...I could not see a thing. I had to grab a tearoff from my goggles. After that awful start I just tried to keep it going, I had lost so much speed that I felt like I was starting from zero again. It was a pretty tough track, and it had changed a lot from yesterday. I knew that I would have to give it everything to beat Floriane in a home race, and she is often a better mud rider than me. I just had to bury myself and go for it. I'm just glad that I managed to stay on, it's pretty amazing."
Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took his second win of the season at La Bresse. However, it was not enough to stop Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) from locking up the men's title with a third place, an impressive feat with one race still remaining in the series. Gee Atherton (Commencal) took second.
The men started with the same course-drying conditions as the women, and the first rider on the course, Tim Bentley (Morewood United Ride) set the first fast, sub-2:20 time. He was bumped a few riders later by Brit Greg Williamson, before Sam Dale (Sunn Montgenevre) took a more significant 3.2 seconds off the lead, to drop it to 2:16.100.
Harry Heath (Unior Tools) scrubbed a tenth of a second off, but it was Britain's Ben Cathro who set what would prove to be the first top-ten time, and spend much of the race in the Hot Seat. Cathro was aided by intermittent rain, heavy at times, that made some drying dirt sections slippery again, forcing riders to navigate more cautiously than riders that went down earlier in the seeding.
Cathro stayed on top through 34 riders before Justin Leov (Trek World Racing) finally displaced him by 0.414 seconds. Leov was immediately pushed out of the top spot one rider later by Marc Beaumont (GT). It was a certainty that the next rider down, Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate), was about to bump Beaumont when he crashed spectacularly in sight of the finish line. Bryceland, using flat pedals, was over a half a second faster at the second split, but just before the final jump his right foot slipped off his pedal and he went tumbling.
Fabien Barel (Mondraker), the two-time world champion and French favourite, managed to recover from a near crash at the top of the course, and slip-slid his way through the mud to finish 0.675 seconds ahead of Beaumont and move into the Hot Seat, which he held through Andrew Neethling (Giant) and Cam Cole (Lapierre), before Minnaar came down the track.
Minnaar had qualified a relatively slow fifth, but was on fire for his final run. The South African was near flawless, avoiding the slide-outs that cost others time, while still managing to throw in pedal strokes where others were coasting. He came flying across the line nearly 3.5 seconds faster than Barel, setting the first sub-2:10 time of the day.
Minnaar's team mate Steve Peat rode next, with a time that was initially good enough for fifth in the final standings. However, the Brit had slid off course on the wet grass near the top, sliding through the tape on one side of a pole and then back in on the other side. It wasn't intentional, and didn't offer him any advantage, but was enough to subsequently disqualify him.
It was down to the final three riders, with Gee Atherton looking at upsetting Minnaar after recording the fastest split of the day at the upper half of the course. However, he slowed significantly through the tight, twisty middle section, to finish 0.459 seconds behind Minnaar at the line. Canada's Steve Smith (Devinci) could not repeat his second place run from qualifying and finished seventh, leaving only World Cup leader Gwin to ride.
From the start, it was clear that Gwin was not showing the dominating form that he has had all season, four-tenths of a second back at the first split and almost two seconds back at the second split. He lost another half a second by the finish line, but it was good enough for third, and locked up the World Cup title, with an insurmountable lead of 310 points over Minnaar. Gee Atherton remains third, a further 151 points back.
"After I crashed at Mont Ste Anne, I wasn't carrying a lot of confidence through Windham," commented Minnaar. "So I went to Santa Cruz [California] and spent three weeks getting ready for this last trip. I felt bit discouraged being beat by Aaron by so much in the Qualies, so after practice this morning I went back to my room and just hung out by myself and just really thought about the run that I needed to put together if I was to have any chance to win this race."
"I ran into a lot of mud spray at the top, and I was being somewhat cautious, so I didn't think it was enough to win, but I guess I kept it smooth, and I guess that was enough to win. It's awesome to do that. It was just a great weekend, with a great crowd and a great atmosphere."
- Minnaar's win was his 52nd podium appearance, tying him with team mate Steve Peat for the most (Peat would have gotten his 53rd if he hadn't been DQ'd).
- Fabien Barel announced that he will retire at the end of this season, following the World Cup Final (Val di Sole, Italy, in two weeks) and the world championships in Champery, Switzerland. Barel, who won back-to-back Elite world titles in 11 years of World Cup competition plus a Junior world title, has been battling injuries over the past few seasons, including riding at times with a leg brace, so, while it will be sad to see the cheerful Frenchman leave, it is not totally unexpected.
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