June 11/07 11:14 am - ChampÃ©ry World Cup: DH report & photos
Posted by Editoress on 06/11/07
Champéry World Cup Switzerland
Coverage sponsored by Maxxis, and Vélirium
Photos from DH final
Photos from Qualifying
The World Cup triple in Champery, Switzerland concluded on Sunday with the Downhill. Host Switzerland took its first win of the weekend in the women's race when Marielle Saner (Bikepark.ch) finished over two seconds ahead of the French duo of Emmeline Ragot and World Cup leader Sabrina Jonnier (Ironhorse-Monster Energy). The men's win went to Finland's Matti Lehikoinen (G-Cross Honda), but the ride of the day was by world champion Sam Hill (Ironhorse-Monster Energy) who came down in the pouring rain (Lehikoinen and the rest of the top-5 came down in dry conditions) and still finished third. Without a midcourse crash, Hill would have likely won.
The course was one of the most extreme seen on the World Cup circuit, with an average gradient of 37.5%, and steep sections well over 50%. This was not a pedalling course, but one requiring exceptional control and nerves of steel to navigate the constant corners, drops and jumps. Parts were almost unwalkable, as Greg Minnaar (G-Cross Honda) unfortunately found out.
The South African slipped while walking the course in a pre-race inspection two days before the race. When he reached out to grab something to stop sliding down the slope, he dislocated his shoulder. Minnaar had to pop the joint back in himself and make his way to the bottom. He still raced - after physio and all strapped up - but crashed in the semi-final and could only manage 74th in the final.
Early morning rain soaked the course and delayed the start of the semi-final by an hour, as organizers waited for the water to at least partially drain out of the wooded and boggy sections. The course did start to dry out significantly for the final.
Jonnier took the women's semi, by four seconds over Mio Suemasa of Japan, with Ragot in third. Saner could only manage 8th after a crash. However, when it came to the final, the Swiss rider, who lives only a few kilometres away from Champery and is sponsored by the event organizer, roared down the course, knocking over 37 seconds off her qualifying time. Ragot was 2.37 seconds back, and Jonnier another half second in arrears after a small crash. Jonnier retained her World Cup leader's jersey with the third place finish.
"I tried to be in control, and not make any mistakes" explained Saner. "My strategy was to not attack the course. This race was a very big goal for me, since I am a local. There was a lot of supporters out for me, and I was able to make it a positive thing, and use it for motivation. But, yes, it was very tense in the Hot Seat, waiting for Jonnier! She crashed, but I think I would have won anyway because she was behind my time when she crashed."
The men's qualifier showed that Hill was firmly in control of this course. His time of 4:01.89 was a full 14.56 ahead of the next qualifier, Mickael Pascal (Q by Saab-Salomon). One of the more interesting rides was by former multi-time world champion Nicolas Vouilloz (Lapierre), who came out of retirement this year with the intention of racing two World Cups only (Champery and Schladming, Austria). Vouilloz's time off hasn't seemed to hurt him any, as he qualified fifth fastest. However, he came down in the rain for the final and could only manage 63rd.
The early fast time was set by Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate), at 4:11.81, and his time stood until Lehikoinen knocked 1.6 seconds off. Shortly after Lehikoinen went the rain started at the top of the course, first a few drops, then heavier and heavier, eventually turning into hail for a short period. The weather gradually moved down the mountain, slackened for a while and then started up again. Only after Hill had completed his run did it stop and the sun come out.
Hill's wild ride saw other riders watching in awe on the big screen at the finish. He was ahead of Lehikoinen until his crash, and only finished three-hundredths of a second behind Peat for third.
Lehikoinen had played it smart and won: "I played the rain game in the semi, and stopped on the track for maybe 20 seconds so I would start earlier. It paid off. But Sam, Sam is an animal ... what can you say after that ride?"
Hill was succinct: "I like the track. I knew Matti's time before I started, but still felt that I could beat it despite the rain. But I crashed about halfway, because I couldn't slow down on the rocks after going over a triple. I was trying not to think about how sketchy it was ... I was pretty well sliding through all the corners. It was as clean a run as you could have under the conditions, and I think without the crash I would have won. This morning I did a 4:01, and the best they (Lehikoinen and Peat) could do was 4:10, 4:11 .
- Jonnier leads the women's World Cup comfortably after two events with 440 points, followed by Ragot (370) and Saner (348). Peat takes over the lead (from Marc Beaumont - MBUK/Santa Cruz) with 335 points, but Hill is just behind at 317. Lehikoinen moves into third with his win at 271 points.
- There was considerable speculation as to how much practice time Saner had, had on the course - despite World Cup rules closing the course until a couple of days before the race. Saner insisted that she had not ridden the course "I did the course only 1 time before, but I like more difficult, technical courses like this." 4-Crosser Jill Kintner (GT), for one, does not believe her. On her website - On her website - www.jillkintner.com - she comments "Marielle Saner won today. She rides for the Bikepark.ch team which is the sponsor of the event, so those guys had like 2 months of closed training on this course. Still, you can't take away from the fact that she made it down, fast too. Her first World Cup win, Congrats, love that home swiss soil."
- Canada had two riders in the women's race, but only Claire Buchar ended up riding (finishing 13th). The chairlift at the venue stopped running on Friday, meaning that riders had to be shuttled back into the town of Champery, take a gondola to the top of the mountain and then ride back across to the start (this route was treacherous enough to be a course in its own right according to some riders). Micayla Gatto (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) was one of a number of riders who did not get to start after delays made her late to the gate. "I was delayed but still arrived one minute before my start. When I rolled up they (start officials) said that I couldn't start. I was pretty upset, I can tell you."
- The top U.S. riders for the downhill were Melissa Buhl for the women in 17th place and Duncan Riffle for the men in 22nd place.