Posted by Editoress on 09/10/17
Canada had a strong finish to the Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns, Australia, on Sunday, when Miranda Miller of Squamish, BC, won the Elite women's title. It is the first Elite Downhill world title for Canada since Cindy Devine won in 1990, the first year of the mountain bike world championships (and the year Miller was born). Great Britain and France also won titles.
The 1.9 kilometre run through the rainforest of Smithfield Park was extremely dry and dusty, making crashes and mechanical problems an ongoing issue throughout the races. From the technical top sections with the Rock Garden that caught a number of riders out, to the long straightaway to the finish that required fitness and endurance, the course was a true championship test.
France's Melanie Chappaz won the Junior women's title (Canada had no entrants), and Canada got off to a disappointing start when defending Junior men's champion and number one ranked Finnley Iles of Whistler, BC, crashed twice on his run to finish tenth. Matt Walker of Great Britain became the Junior men's champion. Other Canadian Junior results were Kendall Mclean in 23rd, Ben Wallace in 25th, Jacob Stefiuk in 37th, Joshua Fultz-Veinotte in 41st, Anthony Poulson in 46th and Cole Mooney in 47th.
The Elite women's field suffered a blow when defending champion Rachel Atherton broke her collarbone in training. However, this left the door open to a new world champion to be crowned, and it was Miranda Miller, having the ride of her career, who took the rainbow jersey. Starting eighth from last, Miller had a clean run, and that proved to be the key when the favourites ran into problems. Tahnee Seagrave (Great Britain) had the fastest top split before crashing lower down. Tracey Hannah, the local favourite racing in her home town, crashed off the course but still managed to get back on her bike to take bronze, while World Cup champion Myriam Nicole of France, the final starter, admitted to a mistake at the top of the course, and finished 0.097 seconds behind Miller. Vaea Verbeeck, Canada's only other entrant in Elite women, finished 16th.
"It's pretty crazy," admitted Miller. "I don't think it has sunk in yet. I feel like I had some luck on my side, but I'll take it. It's pretty cool. I'm sure in a couple days it will feel a bit different. I thought Tahnee (Seagrave) was going to knock me out. But I had some luck on my side for sure. When Myriam (Nicole) came down I thought 'Oh, this is real'. For Canada, we haven't had a [downhill] medal since Stevie [Smith, 2013] and Claire [Buchar, 2011], so it is cool. We got a medal in the Junior XC as well, so it's great for Canada." [Note: See our lengthy interview with Miranda, below]
The Elite men's race saw five time world champion Sam Hill (two Junior, three Elite) of Australia the first to start, and he showed he is still a force by setting a time that stood up for over half the field before fellow Australian and Cairns native Michael Hannah bumped him down to second - Hill would eventually finish a strong sixth. Hannah would remain in the Hot Seat until France's Loic Bruni, the 2015 world champion bumped him by a third of second, and Bruni won the second Elite title of his career, when none of the remaining riders could come close to his time. World Cup champion Aaron Gwin of the USA was the only one who came close, taking the bronze medal.
"It's unbelievable," said Bruni. "I worked so hard all year and luck was on my side. Today Miranda did it for the [Specialized] team, she's World Champion and I just followed that path. The run was crazy. It was loose, I made mistakes. I didn't know what to expect. I knew Mick [Hannah] was super fast. When I came down in front of him I was happy, but still really stressed about all the guys to come at the end. It's insane."
"It is a big relief. Last year at World Champs I broke my wheel and I couldn't do anything. This year I missed a few races, so I was not stoked about my season. Being able to pull it off at the last race of the season is the most important thing I could have done this year. So now I am super happy about my year."
Canada's top finisher was Samuel Thibault in 53rd, followed by Mark Wallace, ranked ninth but finishing a disappointing 54th after crashing near the bottom of the course.
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