Posted by Editor on 05/17/09
It was a record-breaking weekend in Vallnord, Andorra for round three of the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took his second consecutive win in the men's Downhill and the 17th of his illustrious career, breaking Nicolas Vouilloz's record for most World Cup wins, and extending his lead in the overall standings. In the women's Downhill, Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) also took her second consecutive win, and overtook Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) for the lead in the women's series. Canada's Steve Smith (Evil Bikes) equalled his best-ever World Cup result with a tenth place finish in the men's race, while Micayla Gatto was the top Canadian woman in 13th, followed by Miranda Miller in 15th and Claire Buchar in 17th.
Saturday's good weather carried over to Sunday for the Downhill Final. Jonnier and Australian Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized) qualified first for men and women respectively, that didn't mean much when it came to Final. The drying track was getting loose and dusty at the top, and three days of hard riding was making the lower wooded portion rutted and full of braking bumps, pounding the riders as they pushed to shave extra tenths of a second from their times.
Canada's Micayla Gatto was the first woman off, and proved that her qualifying time was an anomaly by posting a sub-three minute 2:57.77 time that would hold up for nearly half the field, before American Melissa Buhl finally bumped her from the Nissan Hot Seat with a blazing fast 2:51.20 .
Buhl didn't get much chance to enjoy the Hot Seat, because five riders later Japan's Mio Suemasa took the top time below 2:50 at 2:48.60 . Suemasa was immediately surpassed by Myriam Nicole of France, by two-tenths of a second, who in turn was supplanted by veteran Celine Gros (Morzine-Avoriaz 74).
But the final three were still to come. Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center), the former Junior World Champion, was third fastest in qualifying, and knocked two seconds off of Gros' time. Next up was World Cup leader Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing), who was well back of Ragot on the upper half of the course, but came back strongly in the technical bottom section to pull to within two-hundredths of the second by the bottom.
However, Jonnier was still to come, and she was on fire, fastest at both intermediate splits and a staggering four seconds fastest by the finish line. Jonnier was nine seconds faster than qualifying. The Maxxis-Rocky Mountain rider took the overall lead from Moseley with her second consecutive win, but her lead is a slim two points, so this battle is far from over.
“I'm super happy,” exclaimed Jonnier. “I felt good all week here, and in the Final even stronger than last week. But I was also extremely nervous, as I do not normally qualify well, so I was feeling the pressure. But I felt very comfortable on this track, and confident with the way my bike was set up. It's great to be back in the World Cup lead, after an only average ride in South Africa.”
Moseley commented "That was a pretty tough result to digest. I made a mistake in the top section, but other than that I thought I had a great run. To see the time that Sabrina posted, well it just kind of deflated me. Losing to Emmeline by 2 hundredths, well that's racing and sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn't, small margins are cruel but part of the sport. It's the bigger margin I need to work on, and I’ll be heading home tomorrow to do just that."
The men's final saw six lead changes in the first 60 riders, with American Ryan Condrashoff the first to take the time below 2:30. Condrashoff was eventually bumped by Australian Josh Button, who knocked two and a half seconds off the lead time, but was still slower than Hill's qualifying time.
American Warren Cody final went faster than Hill by a few hundredths, but it was Australian Bryn Atkinson who was the first to go under 2:26 and set the first really strong time. Atkinson's time would prove to be hard to beat, as rider after rider came close but could not budge him from the Hot Seat.
It took Michael 'Mick' Hannah, 20 riders later, to finally knock Atkinson out of the lead. Hannah, who had been sick during the week, crashed during qualifying and started 17th from last. His run on the upper part of the course was strong, but it was in the rough and technical lower half where he really shone, making up 1.5 seconds in the final 400 metres to take the lead with a time of 2:23.71 .
"I've been sick most of the week, and had a big crash yesterday," explained Hannah "but I had a good, smooth run, and I'm back on the podium, so it's good."
Brendan Fairclough (Monster Energy-Specialized), four riders later, came within 35-hundredths of Hannah, and that proved to be the pattern for the next dozen riders - close to or ahead of Hannah at the top, but losing ground in the lower section. It wasn't until round one winner Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) that Hannah was displaced, by a quarter of a second.
"I didn't crack the top as well as I wanted," commented Minnaar. "And a couple of corners in the middle were a problem. It's good to be up there for points, but I think Steve's running away with it."
The field was down to three riders, with Peat the next up. The World Cup leader was even with Hannah through the upper sections, but really came into his own in the woods, knocking 1.41 seconds off the leading time. World champion Gee Atherton (Animal-Commencal), the defending champion in Andorra, was next, and came within a infinitesimal two-hundredths of Peat, but it just wasn't enough.
"I had a good run," said Atherton "but in a few places I was stalling and braking a bit. To lose by that small of an amount is pretty frustrating, I'm pretty pissed."
However, Sam Hill was still to come, and he was everyone's favourite, after showing he was clearly in tune with this track, both in training and qualifying. The favouritism looked to be justified, when the Australian went through the upper portion 1.6 seconds faster than Peat, and enter the final sections two seconds ahead. But then disaster in the form of a crash in the woods, and Hill's chance for his first win of the year disappeared, while Peat saw his dream of a World Cup record realized.
“It was really close,” agreed Peat. “I didn't think I had the best time, I thought for sure that Sam would beat it. I had a couple of little bobbles and didn't think I was carrying speed. I needed a bit of luck, but you can see that he crashed, and that's it ... history being made.”
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