Posted by Editoress on 06/8/14
Smith Just Off Podium in Return to World Cup Competition at Fort William
Fort William, Scotland, once again provided thrilling racing on Sunday for Round 3 of the Downhill at Mountain Bike World Cup. Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic) took her first win of the season in the women, while Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing DH) took the first World Cup victory of his career in the men. Canadian champion Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) finished sixth, just off the podium in his first World Cup of the season after returning from injury. Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) and Aaron Gwin (Specialized Racing DH) retain their leads in the women's and men's overall standings, respectively.
Fort William lived up to its billing as the epicenter of gravity racing, with over 20,000 fans coming out to cheer on the best downhill racers in the world. The course is considered one of the most physically demanding on the circuit, with rough, rocky sections at the top and then a long pedalling section to the finish. More than one rider has come out of the top section challenging for the lead, only to run out of power in the final Motorway portion at the bottom.
The women's race was expected to be between two British riders - defending champion and World Cup leader Rachel Atherton (GT Factory), and Carpenter. The two came into the race tied on points, with Carpenter taking a slight lead after finishing first in qualifying on Saturday, while Atherton could only manage fifth.
British rider Fionn Griffiths was the first to go under six minutes, and held the top spot until American Jill Kintner displaced her. In quick succession, Emilie Siegenthaler (Gstadd-Scott) and then Tracey Hannah took over the top place. World champion Atherton was expected to then challenge for the lead, but flatted and was eventually disqualified for receiving assistance as she tried to untangle her inner tube from the rear gears. Tahnee Seagrave (FMD Racing), right behind her as the fourth fastest qualifier, also flatted.
Ragot, the 2012 winner in Fort William, had no such problem, scorching the bottom half of the course to take the lead by a significant margin. Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction), the second fastest qualifier, couldn't match Ragot's time, but slotted into second, 8.71 seconds down. Then it was time for Carpenter, who had the fastest first split by over two seconds, before flatting and limping home to 15th.
"I've had some bad luck this season, so I've been waiting to get back into the first three," said Ragot. "So now, I am so happy. I feel sorry for Manon and Rachel, but I know that feeling [of flatting] because I did the same in South Africa. It happens in racing. I wanted to go full on but not crash, so I'm pretty happy about how my run was. The team's pretty happy too about the first win for our new bike!"
Canadian champion Micayla Gatto (Pivot Factory DH) was the top Canadian in eighth, one spot ahead of Casey Brown (Bergamont Hayes). Jaime Hill did not qualify for the final, while Miranda Miller was out of competition after breaking both arms in training earlier in the week.
"My run felt a lot better than qualifying," commented Gatto. "I had a couple of crashes which was a bit disappointing. I'm happy with eighth place, which is probably the best I've done here. There's room for improvement, but I'm looking forward to Leogang and can hopefully stay on my bike there. I'm absolutely gutted for Miranda Miller, who broke both of her wrists. We never want to see a fallen comrade. I hope her the best and a swift recovery and healing vibes."
Carpenter moves back into the lead of the overall standings, with 530 points, while Ragot moves from fourth to second, only 5 points back. Nicole moves up to third at 497 points, while Atherton drops to fourth at 470. Gatto drops one spot, to 11th, after Siegenthaler leapfrogged her with a fourth in Fort William. Brown moved up from 16th to 12th in the standings. Claire Buchar, who only raced Round Two, drops from 13th to 16th.
Missing from the men's start was Australia's Mick Hannah (Hutchinson UR), who crashed in training, separating his right shoulder. "I was having a really good time, riding well, but I went over the bars and tore the AC ligaments. Hopefully I'll be back and in good shape for the Worlds."
The men's race saw local Scottish rider Greg Williamson (Trek World Racing) put down the first sub-4:50 ride only 19 riders into the 82 rider field, eventually good enough for ninth. His time would hold up until there were only 23 riders remaining, when Sam Dale (Madison Saracen) took the Hot Seat, as rider after rider lost time in the lower section of the run.
World champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), a four-time champion at Fort William, was the next to take the lead with 15 riders remaining, and then rain swept in for the final ten riders, possibly making the course slippery for the final runs. However, the rain quickly backed off and the sun returned. Minnaar held onto the lead until Canadian champion Steve Smith, the seventh fastest qualifier and defending World Cup champion, knocked him out of the top spot. Defending Fort William champion Gee Atherton (GT Factory) was the next rider down, and he immediately knocked another second off the lead, only to be displaced in turn by World Cup leader Gwin.
"The race went good," said Smith. "There's nothing to complain about race-wise. I should be okay with finishing sixth after not riding my bike for four months when other people were already racing, but at the same time I'd way rather do better. I wanted to come back and do really well. Not being on the podium was sort of a piss off. The injury isn't nagging at all. I didn't ride for four months, but it's the race experience. I didn't do any smaller races at home like I normally do. The third round of the World Cup being my first race of the year is a little bit tough. Times were tight and I feel like I can definitely work from here. There's a race next week and I know what I have to do. Maybe I'm a dick for complaining about sixth but I'm not happy!"
It was now down to the top three qualifiers, with Sam Hill (Chainreactioncycles.com/Nukeproof), the world champion in Fort William in 2007, moving into the lead. Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre Gravity Republic) flatted, leaving only Brosnan, a two-time Junior world champion, to finish. Brosnan was only sixth fastest at the first split, but blazed through the lower half of the course to win by 1.659 seconds.
"There's too many fans to hear myself think!," exclaimed Brosnan. "My run was awesome, the bike was spot-on. All the fans were cheering, all the way down. It was like the best run of my life ... I love it. The rain just made me smile. It was going to make the turns a bit more grippy and let me attack it the whole way down. I can't believe it. It's so good to win my first one, and now I've got to back it up in Leogang [Austria, Round 4]."
Testifying to the difficulty of Fort William, Brosnan becomes the only rider to score his first World Cup win here.
In other Canadian results, Mark Wallace (Devinci Global Racing) was 42nd, Kirk McDowall 47th and Kyle Sangers 51st.
First round winner Gwin continues to lead with 562 points, while Brosnan jumps from eighth to second in the overall standings at 474. Atherton drops from second to third with 435 points. Smith, with Fort William his only World Cup result, is 41st. Forrest Riesco, who did not qualify for the final here, drops to 63rd in the standings from 55th, Wallace is 68th, McDowall 73rd and Sangers 75th.
Martin Maes (GT Factory) took the Junior men's victory, with Loris Vergier (Lapierre Gravity Republic) finishing second to retain the overall World Cup lead. Jack Iles (Team Canada), the only Canadian in the Junior men, was ninth, and now sits 19th in the standings.
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