Posted by Editoress on 06/11/12
Wet and muddy conditions did not stop the World Cup leaders for both the men and women from padding their leads in the standings at round three of the Downhill World Cup, as Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) and Emmeline Ragot (MS Mondraker) held off all challengers to record victories in Fort William, Scotland. Both spent much of their respective races sitting in the Hot Seat, after encountering problems during qualifying that resulted in early start positions.
In qualifying, the course was so dry that organizers resorted to wetting down sections of the run that was become extremely loose and washing out. However, overnight the always threatening Highlands rain moved in, and continued to fall more or less steadily throughout racing, backing off occasionally, only to return. The men also had to contend with mist on the open slopes of the upper section of the course, at times so thick that it became almost impossible to see more than ten metres ahead. Proof as to how poor the conditions were could be seen in the winning times: neither Ragot nor Gwin came close to the fastest times set in qualifying.
Ragot started halfway through the women's field, after a flat in qualifying put her well back in the field. Rachel Atherton (GT Factory) had set the fastest time in qualifying, a blazing 5:15.146, but early riders were having trouble getting under six minutes in race day conditions. Celine Gros (Team Morzine-Avoriaz/Haute-Savoie) was the only to do so before Ragot took a staggering 28 seconds off to claim the Hot Seat.
Women's podium photo gallery
As rider after rider came down, none could get within ten seconds of Ragot's time until the final two riders. Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction), the second fastest qualifier, came in 9.416 seconds slower than Ragot, so it was up to Atherton, the winner of round two a week earlier. Atherton came through the top split over a second and a half faster than Ragot, but lost nearly two and a half seconds by the second split, recovering slightly by the finish to end up 1.315 seconds behind. Nicole took third. Top North American was U.S. champion Jill Kintner (Norco International)in tenth, one spot in front of Canada's Miranda Miller.
"It was a long time that I was waiting, but I just tried to stay mellow," agreed Ragot. "I had a good feeling on my bike, but it was pretty muddy conditions and at the same time you have to go fast but not slip on the rocks, so it was hard conditions. After my flat I just had to be positive and think, 'tomorrow is another day', and it work."
Ragot now leads the women's standings with 570 points, followed by Atherton - who missed round one - with 450 and Nicole at 441. Kintner drops one spot to seventh with 252 points, while Miller is in 14th with 95.
The men also struggled with the wet and slippery conditions, and it wasn't until there were less than 30 riders remaining that the five minute barrier was broken by young British rider Greg Williamson, at 4:57.864 . Williamson held onto the Hot Seat through seven more riders before Gwin obliterated it, knocking 9.654 seconds off the leading time - a time still nearly six seconds slower than Marc Beaumont's (GT Factory) best qualifying time. Gwin had crashed twice in qualifying, resulting in his much earlier than usual start position.
As the race counted down to the final ten riders, they began chipping away at Gwin's lead, but it wasn't enough. Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), the winner of round one, was five seconds back despite dropping his chain mid run, a resurgent Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized) was at three and a half seconds, and Gee Atherton (GT Factory) a second closer. Canada's Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) had qualified fourth, and was sixth fastest at the first split, less than two-tenths off Gwin's time, but then crashed on one of the slippery bridges further down to finish 19th.
Men's podium photo gallery
Only world champion Danny Hart could get within a second, after leading at the first split, but even he was 0.834 seconds back, while Beaumont crashed heavily high on the course, taking him out of contention. It was Gwin's second consecutive Downhill World Cup win of the season.
"I was coming down thinking it was going well, and it was a good run," said Hart. "But it's hard work, the new bottom section, when it's rain like it has. I just wish I could have gone eight-tenths faster."
"I didn't know if it would be enough," commented Gwin, who had crashed in qualifying. "That was a hard run, I didn't have much left at the bottom. It wasn't the best weekend for me, but I managed to pull it together. I can't believe it really."
Gwin now leads the standings with 650 points to Minnaar's 565, with Atherton at 495. Smith drops from fifth to sixth in the standings, with 302 points.
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