Vital Power Rankings, 2014 Downhill World Championships - The 15 Fastest Going In
At the end of a season of World Cup racing, it took a couple of wins and consistent finishes to walk away with the series silverware. The dust has settled on that particular war of attrition, and to the victors went the spoils, but the world's fastest racers have one more battle to fight. The ultimate test of speed, strength, and mental fortitude awaits those who eye the rainbow stripes. A winner-takes-all opportunity to hang everything out; a final roll of the dice in a gamble that rewards a lucky few, and punishes so many. Bikes will be prepped to ride the finest of lines between speed and resilience, it's one foot on the podium and one foot in the grave for these high-strung race horses that could make heroes or zeroes of their fearless pilots with a snap of a spoke or the slickest of shifts. One-off graphics for a one-off opportunity, such is the magnitude of the occasion. We can't travel in time to tell you who'll win, and even so, we wouldn't want to miss a beat as the tension rises throughout this week of racing that is so familiar, yet so unique. We can, however, put our collective minds together and come up with the last Power Rankings of 2014, and we're pretty sure we've nailed it. Again.
1. Loic Bruni
When you have 500 support staff on course, analyzing every millimeter of your run, you know you're French at World Champs. Loic is really, really good at riding a bike. Loic is also French. That combo means a World Championship downhill victory and that's all you need to know. We believe.
2. Greg Minnaar
You could see it on his face in Australia. When Greg Minnaar was DSQ'd for breaking the tape and re-entering down the course, he had set the World Cup season aside and put all his eggs into the World Champs basket. He "tried" at the World Cups, but didn't fight like he meant it. The overall was not within range and there was no reason to ruin a World Champs effort at the end of the season. After all, he'll hold on to the stripes for a few more days this wekk and will do his best to keep them for another year. Greg has the experience and won't be faded, but Loic has youth on his side and that adds up to a few measly tenths, which is all the difference.
3. Josh Bryceland & Aaron Gwin (tie)
Teddy KGB can splash the pot in his club whenever the $&*% he wants. This is Vital Power Rankings and we can call it however the &$^@ we want. We're calling a tie for 3rd place...down to the thousandth of a second. The party animal and clean-cut uber-pro will have to hold hands on the podium and decide whether they want to cut their bronze medal in half or arrange shared custody of the brown doubloon. (Seriously, there aren't enough spots for all the contenders, so we had to do something! Plus the whole Fox vs TLD, SRAM vs Shimano, Santa Cruz vs Specialized, Brit vs American showdown is a nice piece of bonus controversy, right? Oh, it also gave us an excuse to make a sweet fake photo with Rat and Gwin all tangled up, too.)
4. Sam Hill
Remember that one time we said Sam Hill's flat pedals would be a detriment to his performance? That was our call at Mont Sainte Anne and the soft-spoken slayer went ahead and won, dragging his sticky rubber across our faces. We're going on record here to not blame his result on his pedal preference. It's just a tough race out there and Sam will be out of medal contention by the smallest of margins this time. Look out 2015.
5. Gee Atherton
We're only slotting the Gee man so low because his season has been a bit on the rough side. Any other rider would give their left nut to have the results George Atherton has had this year, and we know he's capable of snatching victories from the jaws of defeat at any point - this year he's just been a little off. We expect a full 2015 re-boot, but that's a different story altogether.
6. Danny Hart
This call is pure reverse psychology. We know Danny can win in Hafjell. He was 2nd place here in 2013, by the slimmest of margins, so by tricking him into thinking we don't expect much of a result, he could actually win. Just don't tell him, ok?
7. Mick Hannah
If anyone has been gunning for the 2014 World Champs win, it's Mick Hannah. Not only is the Aussie pinner about as fast as they come, Hafjell has all the potential for scaring yourself and that's just what Mick likes. For all his rock-garden double-up antics, he's all business and committed to long-term strategy, and we could be shooting ourselves in the foot by putting him all the way down in 7th. But as we always say, we'll leave it up to Sik Mik to prove us wrong on this one!
8. Brook MacDonald
We had no idea where to put Brook. In fact, we didn't even include him on our first run through. We had Steve Smith right here. Thankfully a commenter told us how OTB we were by pointing out Steve Smith isn't even racing World Champs. Guess what Brook, you're in. Now don't screw it up.
9. Troy Brosnan
Troy's 2014 peak has come and gone. That sounds like we're saying he's a has-been or something. Troy is definitely no has-been and we're definitely quivering with fear by positioning the young Aussie in 9th. Bring on the ridicule.
10. Neko Mulally
All-American thunder grom, Neko Mulally is coming of age and cementing his place among the best in the World. A Top 10 result at World Champs is nothing to scoff at and we eagerly anticipate Neko chump-i-fying us by going better than 10th, on a track that will remind him of his native Beast Coast.
11, 12. Sam Blenkinsop, Matt Simmonds
The gloveless wonder will make the Kiwi contingent proud, but he'll know he could have had a better run on the rough, rowdy Norwegian track.
Recipient of perhaps the greatest 2nd place of all time, Matt Simmonds' Meribel performance, sandwiched between Sam Hill and Josh Bryceland is a head-turner. Unfortunately Simmonds' up-and-down results pattern in 2014 leave us no choice but to hang him "low" in the results.
13-15. Steve Peat, Andrew Neethling, Nick Beer
In between Instagrams about energy drinks, health insurance and fluid conveyances, Peaty will rally the Norway course with a respectable and honest result. What can't be quantified purely through results is the positive impact he'll have on his fellow British racers throughout the week. #legend
Andrew Neethling was 3rd in Hafjell last year. 3rd! Despite that heavy 2013 result, Needles is coming off a rung bell at Crankworx, which will effect his headspace at this the most mental of races.
13th in 2013, the rider with the coolest name will bust out a Top 15 for his Swiss homeland. Lower than he'd hope? Probably. Respectable result? Definitely.
Niklas Wallner is a regional hero and finished 16th here in 2013. He's racing for his country, near his home and that patriotism can provide some new-found horsepower come race day.
Patrick Thome was 20th in 2013, but as part of the French National team, Thome could leave us with our jaws out of our domes as he navigates the lack of loam, not all that far from home.
1. Emmeline Ragot
French support, a strong mental game and nothing to lose on a track that rewards the fearless, we're calling Ragot for the women's win in the last race of 2014.
2. Rachel Atherton
We ride mountain bikes, which means we like risk. Not picking Rachel for a World Champs win this season is risk.
3. Manon Carpenter
Manon has had a banner year with her World Cup title grab. Content, but not complacent, Manon will finish 2014 safely with a bronze medal.