Posted by Editoress on 06/6/10
The second round of the Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano in Fort William, Scotland saw Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) repeat as the women's champion, while Gee Atherton (Commencal) took a very popular win for the men.
Fort William is one of the favourite tracks for the riders, requiring both technical skills and endurance for runs that are over five minutes for the women and over four and a half for the top men. It also boasts some of the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of the series, with thousands lining the course. This year, the fast upper section was made more technical, and uncharacteristically dry conditions made for a loose, dusty track that had more than a few riders washing out.
The women's race was expected to be a battle between Jonnier and round one winner Rachel Atherton (Commencal). Atherton had qualified first, but Jonnier has a long history of winning in Fort William, including the world title in 2007.
Canada's Micayla Gatto (Commencal Marzocchi Young Guns) set the first sub-5:40 time, to take the lead and the Hot Seat, which she held until Celine Gros (Morzine-Avoriaz/Haute Savoie) knocked a further four seconds off. The Junior World Cup leader Manon Carpenter was the next to take the lead, but she barely had time to settle into the Hot Seat before Canadian national champion Claire Buchar (Chain Reaction) took the leading time below 5:30.
In quick succession, Mio Suemasa (Funn Bike) and world champion Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Centre) each set faster times, but it was Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing), the 2008 Fort William champion, who set the first sub 5:20 time of 5:16:46, only to have Floriane Pugin (Scott 11) immediately overtake her by an infinitesimal two-hundredths of a second. Jonnier was next, and completely crushed the leading time by nearly five seconds, after a powerful ride on the bottom half of the course. This is where Atherton lost the race, having the fastest second intermediate time by half a second, but losing over two seconds on the final section. Jonnier overtook Rachel Atherton (Commencal) for the lead in the women's series by a slim 15 points.
"It was a long run," commented Jonnier. "I hit my pedal on the top section and lost all my speed, but I knew that I could make up the difference at the bottom, so I gave it everything there. All the people cheering were amazing, and it pushed me to go harder."
The men's race saw a steady chipping away of the top time, as riders approached Minnaar's top qualifying time of 4:39. Antoine Badouard was the first to go below 4:50, and held the Hot Seat for a lengthy period before Thibaut Ruffin (Commencal Superriders) lopped off three seconds. The times continued to go down bit by bit, with former Junior world champion Danny Hart (Giant Factory) taking it down to 4:42.77 . Australian Shaun O'Connor (Kenda Playerbike) knocked another 1.23 seconds off, but Minnaar's qualifying time was still holding up.
Canada's Steve Smith (Evil Bikes), had a strong start, but washed out in one of the corners at the top of the course, taking him out of contention. Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Mad Catz-Specialized), normally one of Minnaar's greatest rivals, crashed hard in training two days prior to the race and, after an early morning run to test his shoulder decided not to start.
"It was a pretty big crash," Hill admitted. "I'm pretty bummed out not to be racing, but I can't hold onto the bars properly, so I would just crash again. I think there's a little shoulder separation, so I'm scheduled to see a specialist during the week."
Mick Hannah (GT Bicycles) was the first to finally surpass Minnaar's qualifying time, and did so by two seconds, with 12 riders remaining. Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate), the clear crowd favourite, was well off the pace, but is still favouring his back after a serious crash in Lisbon a month ago. Hannah's very fast time stood up until it was the turn of Gee Atherton, the 2008 world champion.
Atherton was looking to finally score the first World Cup win on home soil by this racing family, and he did so decisively, beating Hannah by over two seconds. American Aaron Gwin (Yeti Fox Shox) and Cameron Cole (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) both came close to Atherton, with Cole less than half a second back, but it was the two-time defending track champion Minnaar who looked to have the best chance.
Minnaar came through the second split four-tenths of a second down, and lost the same amount again in the final pedal into the finish for third place behind Cole, to give Atherton his first World Cup win on British soil.
"It's a dream come true," said Atherton. "This is the most excited I've ever been about winning a race. I owe to the crowd, I could hear them as I came out of the woods at the bottom, and it pushed me harder."
Minnaar continues to lead the men's series by 15 points over Atherton, with Cole a distant third at 282 points.
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