- Bike Checks
Also note: LIVE REPLAY available here.
And so the day that somehow always seems to come around too soon was here - time for the last World Cup final of the season. After an intense qualifying session, Stevie Smith jumped ahead of Gee Atherton in the overall standings by a mere 3 points - if you'd have scripted this ending for a movie it would have been dismissed as a Hollywood fantasy. With such a small difference it meant the fastest man on the day would take home the overall Word Cup title - safe to say that neither of the 2 title contenders were going to leave anything on the track. Throw in dark horse Mick Hannah, still on a tear after his magnificent World Champs bid came up ever so short and looking to cap his superb season off with a win, and you have all the makings of a thriller of a season finale - marred ever so slightly by injuries to Minnaar, Gwin, Hart, Hill, and Macdonald, all sidelined by various unfortunate incidents. That also opened the door for some interesting subplots, notably Blenkinsop who could move up to third overall with a strong showing here.
First up were the juniors, where the overall title was up for grabs as well. Displaying the consistency that has helped put him in a spot to contend in the first place, Loris Vergier finished ahead of Michael Jones by less than a tenth of a second, and earned enough points to overtake him in the final standings. Congrats to first year junior Loris on a great campaign, ending on a high note and bringing home the overall title to Team Lapierre Gravity Republic.
Next on deck the women. Rachel Atherton had a fairly comfortable margin in the overall standings, which essentially meant she could cruise down and claim the overall - but that is not how Rachel approaches these things. Myriam Nicole laid down the first really fast run of the day, beating Rachel's fastest qualifier by 3 tenths and taking over the hotseat. That the times would come tumbling down became clear when Manon Carpenter stormed into the lead by nearly 3 seconds a few riders later. Jill Kintner showed that her qualifying performance was no fluke, slotting into second behind Manon (she would eventually end up on the podium in 4th) - and suddenly only Ragot and Atherton were left up top. Ragot set out with one goal, and it showed at split 1 - 4 seconds up already! She increased that advantage to the line, finishing with a blistering 3:52, 8 seconds up on Rachel's qualifier. Rachel however had no intention of nursing it down, up at split 1, down by a bit at split 2...when all was said and done, she came up 0.5 seconds short, but all credit to her for laying it all on the line with so much at stake. Well done Emmeline Ragot and Team Lapierre (who have finished 2nd to Team GT in the overall team standings), and of course congrats to Rachel on a magnificent season - 4 World Cup wins and the individual overall title as well as team title for GT - was it to be a good omen for Gee up later?
And so it was time for the main event - the heavyweight title bout, the showdown to end all showdowns. Who would be crowned 2013 overall World Cup Champion in Men's Elite? George Brannigan laid down an early fast run, coming within a couple of seconds of Stevie Smith's fastest qualifier, which earned him a lengthy stay in the hotseat. In fact, it would take us well into the top 20 before Remi Thirion would dislodge him, after yet another epic bottom section by the Frenchman (coming back from being nearly 2 seconds down at split 2). Connor Fearon would be the first rider to equal the fastest qualifier, and he got an extension on his hotseat lease when Marc Beaumont threw away his run after being up by 1.5 seconds at both splits. Shortlived joy, Josh Bryceland was the next rider on deck, and he threw down a blinder setting a 3:27 as the new mark to beat with a smooth and stylish run. Was he on for a podium?
Marcelo Gutierrez came up 0.8 short, and Steve Peat had to bow to his apprentice as well. Neko Mullaly had a weak bottom section to see his bid falter, and Troy Brosnan fared little better. Ratboy was now living on the podium bubble. Blenki then came down into third, followed by teammate Loic Bruni who smashed it by 2 seconds! 3 to go and the World Cup overall title on the line - but maybe we were about to have a first time winner too? Gee on track - up at split 1! Down by 0.6 at split 2!!! And down by 1.5 at the finish - was Loic's run simply that good, or was Gee not quick enough on the day? Sik Mik next out of the start gate - up at split 1. Could he hold it? No, down again at split 2, and second at the bottom. Bruni's bottom half was truly special.
One man to go. What would Smith do? LOOK AT THE TIME!!!! 2 seconds up by split 1!!! And 1.3 by the end - an epic epic run, and such a worthy winner of the race and the overall title. This will be one to look back at! Massive congrats to Stevie on a truly special performance.
Notes: Loic Bruni finished with a career-best second place, Josh Bryceland will be happy with his run and his podium finish. Marcelo Gutierrez with a career-high 6th place, and Steve Peat still inside the top-10. It's going to be a looong off season!