- Bike Checks
Hafjell made a welcome return to the 2013 World Cup schedule after the success of last year's inaugural race at the venue. One year has given the track time to bed in, and it was indeed running considerably faster throughout training - until mother nature finally decided to play ball and serve up a little World Cup worthy weather, that is. After eating dust for a week, the riders woke up to sullen skies and an abundance of H2O on race day - and with all the practice having taken place in the dry, it was really anybody's guess as to how the track would now ride in the wet. Muddy is one thing, slick rockgardens another...who would be up for it?
Once the women got going it was clear the course was not going to give up without a fight. Times were slower and a few of the girls were looking tentative in the wet. Morgane Charre laid down a clean run to take the hotseat, which would hold until only 4 riders were left standing on top of the hill. Manon Carpenter then took the lead, Myriam Nicole's bid came up short, and Emmeline Ragot had a bobble that dropped her down the 5th after leading at the first split - would Rachel Atherton continue her dominance? Despite a heart-stopping moment in the last rockgarden, she came down more than 7 seconds ahead of Manon, confirming that when she turns it on, she is on another level right now.
In the men's, Andrew Neethling coming off an unusually lowly 66th place qualifier put down a hefty deposit on an hour or two of hot seat rent with a 3:42 - 12 seconds off Gee Atherton's fastest qualifier. The junior race was won with a time only 6 seconds off qualifying, so a podium didn't look likely for Needles at that time - but top-20 came and went, then we were into the top-10 qualifiers and he was still sat there. Hill came up short, but Danny Hart rolled the dice through the rock gardens and got his reward - 3:41.8 was the new time to beat. 8 to go.
Blenki, Brannigan, and Brosnan took their shots, but it was not to be. 5 to go, and last year's winner Stevie Smith was under starter's orders. 3 minutes and 40 seconds of awesomeness later, he was in the hotseat - guaranteed no worse than 5th, thus incidentally keeping the battle for the overall title alive. Minnaar next, a clean run was not to be enough, 4 seconds back - Smith still on top. 3rd place qualifier Bruni took a spill at a tricky off camber section, and that left us with only Sik Mik and Gee to go.
Sadly, Mik got a little too Sik on the road gap, and blew off the course in the left hander after the huck. What would Gee do? He got ragged, and ate a tree half way through his run, ended up 12th - and just like that, Smith is a 3-time World Cup winner! And the points gap to Gee coming down with the overall race going down to the wire with now just a 16 point differential - what else could we race fans ask for? Congrats Stevie - bring on Leogang yeow!
Of note: Danny Hart and Andrew Neethling (yeah Needles!!!) put Giant on the box with Blenki and Minnaar rounding out the top 5. Old School Peaty himself put on his usual display of deceptively slow-looking speed-carrying and took a magnificent 6th place here, with Marcelo Gutierrez once again solidly in the top-10 (rounding off a good day of racing for Giant!).