- Bike Checks
The second race of the 2013 Downhill World Cup season was as eagerly anticipated as the first one a week ago - if for nothing else than to answer the question on everybody's mind, was Aaron Gwin's disappointing 20th place in Fort William merely a hiccup, or something more serious? The question was partially answered when Aaron took second place in qualifying 2 days ago, but race day is the true test.
The weather was on its best behavior, which left the track foot-deep in dust, hiding 100s of sniper roots and rocks just waiting to take the riders out in retaliation for the slightest lack of concentration (or luck). Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) was the first man down to crack 3:20 with a flowy and loose run of 3:17, which would have put him 4th in qualifying. His stay in the hot seat would be short though, with Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing) laying down an incredible 3:16.3 to get within less than 1 second of Gee Atherton's fastest qualifier. Troy would hold on to a podium spot when all was said and done.
Closing in on the top-10 qualifiers, would Remi Thirion capitalize on his by now infamous huck? He had a clean run but it was not to be, he came down in 7th, 4 seconds off Brosnan's early pace (he'd end up 13th). Loic Bruni (Lapierre Gravity Republic), reigning Junior World Champion, was 0.5 off the pace at split 1, but picked up a second by split 2 - and he didn't let up until the bottom, first rider to beat Gee's qualifying time ending up with an amazing 3:14.656! The crowd was well into it by now, and Bruni looked right at home up there with the big guns. So at home in fact, that he'd end up in 4th for his second ever senior podium.
Minnaar!!! What a ride! Uncharacteristically loose but fully committed, Greg (Santa Cruz Syndicate) pulled out yet another magical finals run, finding 7 seconds from his qualifier, to show the youngsters that they have their work cut out for them if they want his place. Next up was Danny Hart (Giant Factory Racing), he was off pace at split 1, and went on to have a crash midcourse - another disappointing weekend for the Englishman.
Into the top 5, and all eyes were on Sam Hill (Team CRC Nukeproof). Would he square his Val di Sole debt? An incredible full second ahead already at split 1 and looking lethal, it was not to be: a crash somewhere before split 2 put an end to his hopes. Sam's first split would only be bettered by Gee, showing that the thunder from down under is indeed back on pace - we can't wait to see him with a trouble-free full pull. Then came Brook Macdonald (Trek World Racing), 0.9 seconds back at split 2, looking good, but a huge crash put an end to his run - and to his seat! (kids, don't push as hard as Brook did after loosing his saddle)!
Next up was third place qualifier Stevie Smith (Devinci Global Racing). Stevie was right on the splits and pulled out a magnificent run to take the hot seat by 0.3 seconds. Smith was completely in control and never looked ragged, which shows that this course can be tamed and ridden to plan. Gwin then, 6th at split 1, up to 4th at split 2, but he would fade to 5th by the finish (he ended up 6th on the day, 2 hundredths of a second behind his team mate Troy Brosnan). His lines looked more positive than in Fort William, but clearly, Aaron was not a happy man at the end of his run.
Only Gee left then - could he find another couple of seconds from qualifying to secure the Atherton double again? 0.5 seconds ahead at the splits, he'd only go on to build from there - with a run that looked like it was in another gear, he ended up with an incredible 3:12 to win by 1 second, leaving little doubt as to who is the man to beat right now. Congrats to the Athertons and to GT Factory Racing on another fantastic weekend!
In the Women's, we now have confirmation that the ultra-dominant version of Britain's and GT Factory Racing's Rachel Atherton is indeed back. France's Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic) put up a good fight, and did manage to better Rachel's qualifying time by 2 seconds (the only rider to do so), but Rachel was not to be stopped - last woman down the hill, she took a further 5 seconds off Emmeline's time for a comfortable win, showing that when she clicks, she really is in a class of her own.
Floriane Pugin (Gstaad Scott) was 12 seconds back in third, with Morganne Charre a further 2 seconds adrift in 4th. Myriam Nicole took a massive 21 seconds out of her qualifier to end up with 5th and completing an all-French sweep of the runner-up podium spots, which will be of some comfort although she won't be happy with being 15 seconds back.
In the Juniors, Aussie Dean Lucas took a whopping 13 seconds off his qualy time to take the hot seat with 8 riders still to go - he would end up sitting there for the rest of the race. Fastest qualifier Phil Atwill from Great Britain took a further 4 seconds off his qualifying time, but came up 0.160 short, with American Luca Shaw a further 0.028 adrift in third. Just like in Fort William a week ago, the junior racing is incredibly close! GT's Taylor Vernon had a massive crash in the top section and DNF'ed. Apparently he is in good spirits and can't wait to get back on the horse again.