September 15/12 11:56 am - MTB DH World Cup Final, Hafjell report
Posted by Editoress on 09/15/12
The 2012 Mountain Bike World Cup series concluded on Saturday with the seventh and final round of the Downhill in Hafjell, Norway. Rachel Atherton (GT Factory Racing) won the women's competition and overall title, while Canada's Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) took the first World Cup victory of his career in the men's category. Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) won the men's overall title, despite not starting the final round due to injury.
The Hafjell track is new to the World Cup, but has already drawn strong praise from riders for its varied and technical terrain. After rain earlier in the week, the course dried considerably for a sunny and windy race day.
American Jacqueline Harmony, tenth fastest in qualifying, set the first sub-4:25 time for the women, a time that proved to be strong enough for fifth, and her first podium appearance. Harmony held the Hot Seat for two riders before Canadian national champion Casey Brown knocked over 10.5 seconds off to take the lead. Brown held the lead for four riders until the newly crowned world champion, Morgane Charre (Passionvelo.fr), bumped her by nearly two seconds.
However, everyone was waiting for the final three riders to come down, which included the two who have been battling for the World Cup title all season: Atherton and Emmeline Ragot (MS Mondraker). Ragot qualified third fastest, and came through the speed trap significantly faster than anyone else, the first to beat Atherton's qualifying time with 4:03.828 . Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) was the second fastest qualifier, but crashed hard in the middle of her run, leaving it up to Atherton.
Podium: Casey Brown, Emmeline Ragot, Rachel Atherton, Morgane Charre, Jacqueline Harmony -Photo Keith Valentine
Atherton had finished a disappointing fifth at the world championships, struggling with back problems and, at the first split Ragot was ahead by three-tenths of a second. But the British rider put in a brilliant lower half to her run, to win by 2.283 seconds, and take her first World Cup overall title since 2008.
"I am so happy the race is done," Atherton revealed. "The track was really hard, really challenging and really physical. I was probably the most scared I have been all year. I am really tired, I pushed all the way. It is an awesome track. I am really happy."
"It is cool [because] I haven't won the overall title since 2008, with all the injuries I've had. It is cool to finally be back at the top. I missed out at the World Championships last week with an injury. It is just an amazing feeling, it hasn't quite sunk in yet."
Atherton won the 2012 title with 1450 points, despite missing the first round, with Ragot 140 points back, followed by the absent and injured Nicole Myriam (Commencal/Riding Addiction) with 892 points.
The battle for the men's overall title was over after round six, with Gwin having locked it up by virtue of his four wins. The competition for second in the final standings was far from over, however, with world champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) a mere 19 points in front of Gee Atherton (GT Factory Racing).
Markus Pekoll (MS Mondraker) was the first man to spend an appreciable time in the Hot Seat, eventually finishing ninth with his 3:36.712, after holding the lead time for 30 riders before Cameron Cole (Lapierre International) finally supplanted him by 0.649 seconds with 18 riders to go. Ten riders later, Atherton took the lead by nearly two seconds, but didn't have much time to enjoy it before Minnaar bumped him by a tenth of a second, ensuring his second place in the overall standings.
The four riders remaining would all have been a first time winner of a World Cup. Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) struggled in the upper half of the course, putting him out of contention. George Brannigan, Steve Smith's team mate, also had a poor start in the upper part of the course, but recovered strongly to take the lead by 1.734 seconds. Second place qualifier Robin Wallner (Are Bikepark by W-Racing) seemed to succumb to the pressure, finishing well off the pace in 17th.
Podium: Gee Atherton, George Brannigan, Steve Smith, Greg Minnaar, Nick Beer - Phot Keith Valentine
This left Smith, the bronze medalist at the world championships, with the only chance left to replace his team mate Brannigan on the top step. The Canadian has had multiple podium appearances over the past couple of years, but was still looking to win his first World Cup. It was clear that this course suited him, as he recorded the fastest splits both at the top and middle portions of the course, visibly faster than anyone else through the rock gardens, to come in four-tenths of a second faster that Brannigan at the bottom. Two other Canadians cracked the top-50: Kyle Sangers in 40th and Kirk McDowall in 46th.
"I am so happy right now," said Smith. "I have never won a World Cup before; it has been a dream of mine. I had no idea when I was running how it was going. The wind was such a bad headwind. The track is so fast but it didn't feel like I could go any faster, because that headwind was so hard, but everyone had the same. I am so stoked."
"It is insane. I can't believe the team is finishing the season this way. All three of us on the podium today. Three of the five! It's George's (Brannigan) first ever podium, Nick [Beer - fifth] first podium this year, so for the Devinci team we are all so stoked right now."
Gwin won the men's World Cup title with 1260 points to Minnaar's 1162, with Atherton at 1123 and Smith in fourth at 930.
"It's a great feeling [winning the World Cup overall]," agreed Gwin. "A little bittersweet not being able to race, but definitely a really awesome year for me, I can't complain. It has been great. Congrats to Stevie [Smith], that was cool to see."
"On the first day of practice I had a pretty big crash in the rock section, that was a bit of a bummer. I was feeling good and looking forward to having some fun at this race, but that is the way it goes. It could be a lot worse, I guess. Yes, it is disappointing not to be in the last race of the season. You always want to end the year strong, and I kind of did this last year too. Kind of a bummer but I will have no shortage of motivation for the off season."