Posted by Editoress on 08/11/13
The only North American visit by the Mountain Bike World Cup concluded on Sunday with Round Four of the Downhill. Just as in the Cross-country a day earlier, new faces stood on the top step of the podium for the first time this season, with Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic) beating the previously untouchable Rachel Atherton (GT Factory) in the women's race, while Canadian champion Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) took a hugely popular victory for the host country in the men's competition. Rachel Atherton and her brother Gee retain their leads in the overall standings, however, the race for the World Cup titles just got tighter, with two races remaining.
Canadian champion Micayla Gatto was the first rider down the course, and took control of the women's Hot Seat, holding it for nearly two-thirds of the field before the Junior World Cup leader, Tahnee Seagrave (FMD Racing / Intense Cycles) bumped her.
From that point it was an almost continuous change in the lead for the remainder of the field, with Myriam Nicole (Commencal / Riding Addiction) replacing Seagrave, only to have Emilie Siegenthaler (Gstaad-Scott) replace her in turn. Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen), second in the previous round, then took the leading time below four and a half minutes for the first time, with three riders remaining.
Floriane Pugin (Gstaad-Scott), the next rider down, slotted in behind Carpenter, and then it was the turn of Ragot. The former world champion was four seconds faster at the first split, slightly less at the second, and then gained more time at the bottom to finish 4.211 seconds ahead of Carpenter.
All that was left was Atherton, the fastest qualifier and unbeaten in World Cup competition this season. However, the British rider got into trouble almost immediately, crashing in the first wooded section, and then again further down in the rock garden, to finish nearly 35 seconds back in 12th place.
"I did a really fast run and I pushed myself," commented Ragot. "I knew if I wanted to win today I [would] have to push. I needed to be full on to win it. You know sometimes you crash because you pushed it beyond your limit. It is hard to push past your limit and not crash, hard to do, but I made it. It means a lot to win today. Our Junior rider Loris (Vergier) won and we were hoping for me to do well too. So I am pretty happy with the team."
With two races remaining in the World Cup, Atherton's lead over Ragot has shrunk to 60 points, meaning this competition is by no means over. Carpenter also has an outside chance of moving up, with a 140 point deficit to Atherton.
The men's race saw only three leaders, with Andrew Neethling (Giant Factory) taking the lead after the first four riders, and holding it until Gee Atherton took it with 18 riders remaining, setting the first sub-four minute time. Atherton usually starts among the final two or three riders, but a crash in qualifying put him back in the field.
This began to look like a fortuitous event, when rain moved in shortly after he finished, making the track slick and muddy in sections. The riders coming behind him couldn't get close to the World Cup leader's time, with top riders like Sam Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles.com/Nukeproof) and world champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) both more than a second back. The rain had stopped, but the dirt sections were still muddy and the rocks slippery.
Finally, the only rider left was Smith, the fastest qualifier and second to Atherton in the World Cup standings. The Canadian had the entire hill behind him, with fans chanting his name. He was two-tenths of a second behind at the first split, and two-hundredths at the second one, and no one knew what to expect as he hit the final jumps into the finish arena and pedaled furiously across the line. For a split second it looked like he had lost, and then the timing board turned green, revealing a nine-tenths of a second advantage. The hill exploded with cheers, as fans celebrated a local win to cap off the weekend.
Steve Smith greets the crowd
"I was scared," revealed Smith. "I knew Gee was going really early because of his crash, so I tried not to think about it and that he had a better course [because of the rain]. I just tried to ride it without any expectations. I tried to ride it fast, just like in practice when it was so slippery. I was sliding everywhere. I'm so stoked to get a good clean run. I felt great. Home soil ... I don't think there is a better place in the world for me to win, this is about as good as it gets for me."
"I know Gee still has a big lead on me, but there are two more World Cups and anything can happen. I am not to concerned about that at the moment, I am just going to try to ride consistent. I like the next two World Cup tracks so I am looking forward to them."
Gee Atherton's lead in the overall standings has dropped to 120 points over Smith, with two rounds remaining. Greg Minnaar is a distant 309 points behind Atherton.
In the Junior categories, Tahnee Seagrave continues to lead the women's standings, and is ranked ninth overall. The Junior men have a separate ranking to the Elite men, with Loris Vergier (Lapierre Gravity Republic) winning in Mont Ste Anne, and taking the leader's jersey from Luca Dean (Australia) by a slim eight point margin.