Posted by Editor on 08/9/14
The top names came to the fore to produce a thrilling climax at the penultimate sixth stop of the World Cup Downhill series at Windham, New York. Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic) flew down the 1.5 kilometre course to win the women's race, while Brits Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and Taylor Vernon (GT Factory Racing) crushed local hopes on their way to winning the Elite and Junior Men's events.
A nasty crash by North Vancouver's Micayla Gatto (Pivot Factory DH Team), which temporarily halted the women's race, cast a cloud over the competition, however, she was up walking around later. Canadian national champion Vaea Verbeeck (Intense/GoPro), Forrest Riesco (Banshee/RaceFace/North Shore Billett) and Jack Almond (Norco/RaceFace/C4 Training) were the top Canucks in their respective divisions.
Memories of her fall at Windham in 2012 were obviously banished as Ragot let it all hang out, producing a run that was nearly three seconds faster than that of silver medalist and world champion Rachel Atherton (GT Factory Racing).
By virtue of starting first, Australian Tegan Molloy, the sole Junior woman in the field, set the early standard of 3:15.57. New Zealand's Alanna Columb knocked ten seconds off that, and Canada's Casey Brown (Bergamont Hayes World Team) lowered the standard to 3:00.33.
Verbeeck moved into the hot seat with a 2:56.86, but a look of concern appeared on her face when Gatto failed to register at the second checkpoint, due to a crash that suspended racing.
"She got a red flag which is a pretty serious situation where she can't get off the track by herself," explained Verbeeck. "I'm definitely pretty nervous to know how she is."
The course closure prevented Tahnee Seagrave (PMD Racing) from completing her run. A quick decision by chief commissaire Mike Drolet saw Seagrave slot back in prior to the final three starters. Drolet's instructions to the start-house officials were to allow Seagrave all the time she required to prepare for her restart, and her rerun obviously didn't hurt, as she produced a top-five run.
World Cup leader Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) was the first to take the standard below 2:50 with a 2:48.87, but Tracey Hannah (Hutchinson UR) immediately bested that by 1.7 seconds.
On course, however, was Ragot, seemingly on the edge of control, who blew away Hannah's time by nearly seven seconds. "It was a full-on run because it's really short," said the winner, a two-time elite world champion. "I think I was fast but I was in control."
Reigning world champion Atherton produced a strong run, sufficient for second but well short of the top step.
Fourth place on the day was enough for Carpenter to retain the overall series lead: "I struggled a bit with this track because it's so fast. I'd like to have had third points-wise, but I'm happy with fourth and still leading. It's going to be tight going into the last round."
"My run was good," recalled Verbeeck. "I'm really happy it's done. It was clean but a bit wild in the very first woods. I was just 'Keep it together, go fast, keep off the brakes.' I knew I braked too much in my qualifying yesterday so I wanted to get off the brakes. It's a big battle the whole way down."
Gatto's crash occurred at a point on the course called the Fatter Lip. "I guess I just got caught in the wrong ruts and hit the deck pretty hard and bounced off some rocks," she explained.
"I've got a black eye and hurt my shoulder and hip. Definitely not the result I was looking for today. I was on a really good run, I think, but that's the way things go sometimes. I'm just glad I didn't get hurt more than I did."
Carpenter continues to lead the women's standings, but race for the overall title has tightened up going into the final round. Carpenter has 1180 points, with Ragot at 1110 and Atherton at 1060. Gatto remains the top Canadian, in tenth place with 399 points
It's been a breakthrough season for Bryceland, now with two wins and a second in three races.
The final starter, his winning run came immediately after Gwin set American hearts aflutter with a new leading time. Bryceland looked a little ragged, nearly losing it on the road gap jump, but setting the fastest time at the checkpoints on his road to victory. "I did hang it out in a couple of spots, more than I like to generally. Kept it upright so obviously wasn't too far over the edge. Honestly, it didn't feel that much quicker than my quallie yesterday."
Canadian Forrest Riesco (Banshee/RaceFace/North Shore Billett) set an early standard, but had little time to enjoy it before being ousted. Austrian Manuel Gruber set a time of 2:28.6 that stood up for a long time.
Michael Jones (Chain Reaction/Nukeproof) was the first to go under 2:28, withstanding a dozen attempts until Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre Gravity Republic) went a hair faster with a 2:27.54 run.
World Cup leader Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing DH) bettered that by a second, but Gwin topped that by half a second to raise hopes of a home country hero.
With his win, Bryceland moves into the series lead, but Brosnan isn't giving up. "My run was really dialed," stated the erstwhile leader. "I couldn't do much more. I had a sick top section and couldn't go much faster. Josh is really on another level. We've got France left and we'll see how it goes."
Top Canadian Riesco enjoyed his time in the hot seat. "I was hoping I might be top ten or top five when I came down but I'll take the first place. It was cool."
Nanoose Bay, BC's, Remi Gauvin (PerformX - Commencal) had a dramatic crash after losing his grip on the handlebar. "I don't know what to say. I guess I was just too relaxed, I guess."
Bryceland has overtaken Brosnan in the World Cup standings, donning the leader's jersey for the final round with 1007 points.. Brosnan sits second with 964 and Gwin is third with 925. Despite having missed four out of six rounds - including the last two with a new injury, Steve Smith continues to be the top canadian in rankings, but has dropped to 44th with 205 points. Riesco is 57th with 136 points and Mark Wallace (Devinci Global Racing) is 58th with 130.
American eyes were on Luca Shaw (SRAM/TLD Racing), World Cup leader, top qualifier and winner last week at Mont Ste. Anne. He did have a fast run, but had to give way to Taylor Vernon (GT Factory Racing) who notched his first World Cup win.
"I concentrated hard on the track," said Vernon. "I blocked out all the fans up there. They were getting pretty rowdy. I just worked hard this weekend and I knew what to do on the track. I knew that you had to push but it was that fine line between going too slow and too fast and blowing up stuff. I'm really happy how I performed today."
"I think I just started being a little too safe," said Shaw, who continues to lead the overall. "I was definitely pretty loose on the top. I lost a lot of time there yesterday (in qualifying). I was happy with how I hit the top section. I may have dropped the intensity a little bit. No complaining from me. Second will do for me today."
Almond finished tenth, with Jack Iles (Evil Vengeance Tour) coming home in 16th.
"It was faster than any of my practice or qualifying runs," said Almond of his top-ten effort. "I slid out in one corner but kept it going. I'm very happy with my run."
Shaw continues to lead the Junior men's standings with 214 points, followed by Loris Vergier (Lapierre Gravity Republic) at 200 and Taylor at 181. Iles falls from fifth to sixth in the standings at 68 points.
- Taking a page from the Pro Tour, where team chefs are de rigeur, American component manufacturer Chris King is providing culinary support for the Santa Cruz Syndicate. An outgrowth of its Portland factory cafeteria, where employees are able to dine on quality, local fare as a healthy alternative to nearby fast food outlets, the relationship builds on the existing product sponsorship Chris King offers the downhill team.
- Course designer Justin Brigandi gave himself a mandate to create an exciting and fast track. The 23-year old New York city resident works full-time as a numismatist, but spends almost every weekend riding at Windham Mountain.
- Officials made space for Aaron Gwin's grandmother to watch the race. "I came here to watch him win," said Evelyn Anderson.
- As luck would have it, Riesco's rear tire blew off the rim while he was sitting in the Hot Seat.
- Steve Peat set the fastest time of the day through the speed trap, the only rider to clock over 70 kmph. Interestingly, Bryceland was only 25th fastest in elite men.
Report by Emil van Dijk