June 1/08 5:22 am - World Cup Andorra: DH Report & Photos
Posted by Editoress on 06/1/08
MTB World Cup
Coverage brought to you with the assistance of Velirium
Today was Atherton Day at the Downhill World Cup, as Rachel Atherton and her brother Gee (both Animal Commencal) swept the titles at VallNord in Andorra. Their wins follow brother Dan Atherton's victory the evening before in the 4-Cross, making this definitely the first time a family of riders have all won World Cups at the same event. The trio also took the team title for Gravity events. Canada's Steve Smith (Cove Bikes) had a breakthrough ride, finishing tenth in the Final, after qualifying fifth for the top North American result. Melissa Buhl (KHS) was the top North American in ninth, followed by Claire Buchar (Intense) in 11th place, with Canadian champion Micayla Gatto (Commencal) right behind in 12th.
The rain which fell intermittently during the cross-country and 4-cross stayed away, but low cloud cover was blowing through during qualifying, keeping a chill in the air. Towards the end of the Final, the sun finally broke through, revealing the surrounding snow capped mountains.
The rain and moisture in the air were just enough to leave a thin, slick layer of mud on the roots and rocks, sending riders skidding in the corners, and ensuring almost nobody had a clean run.
"This is the sort of course where it is impossible to have perfect run," agreed Gee Atherton. "All you can do is try to limit your mistakes to little ones."
Rachel Atherton gave fair warning that she was on top of her game by laying down a qualifying run that was nearly 14 seconds (13.73, to be exact) faster than world champion and World Cup leader Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis), with Tracy Moseley (Kona) at 15.83 seconds. Gatto was the fastest North American in qualifying, taking seventh place.
In the Final, Diana Margraff (Ecuador) set the first sub 3:30 time, which was immediately eclipsed by Buhl. Buhl's time held up until Fionn Griffiths (Norco) went through the finish with a sub 3:20 time, but Griffiths barely had time to get into the Hot Seat before Floriane Pugin (Playbiker-Iron Horse) dropped the leading time to 3:07.11 .
Neither Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center) nor Moseley could go faster, so Pugin had at least third place locked up. And that is where she finished, with Jonnier coming down over three seconds faster, and then Atherton unleashing an even faster ride than the morning, at 2:55.30 - the only woman to break the three minute mark, and a time that would have beaten almost a quarter of the men's field.
"I was really worried about the track being cut up, and I wasn't sure about some of the lines to take, so I was asking my brothers," revealed Atherton. "It is the kind of track where you can never be perfect, and I made a lot of little mistakes, especially near the bottom. I was so tired, that I was getting sloppy and blew out some corners. I thought 'Oh No!', but the only thing you can do is carry on."
Gee Atherton's win didn't offer quite the dominant performance of his sister, with his winning margin over Hill only 31 hundredth of a second in the Final. His qualifying run gap over Hill was a more respectable 1.68 seconds, with Fabien Barel (Subaru MTB) also less than two seconds back, and Steve Peat at 2.35 seconds. The run that was causing a lot of talk was Smith's fifth place, 3.35 seconds back. Smith's win at the US Open two weeks ago seems to have given the young Canadian extra confidence.
Dan Stanbridge (Mojo Orange) set the first fast time. Tenth out of the gate, his time of 2:45.12 would eventually be good enough for 19th place. The times went down slowly until Chris Kovarik (Chain Reaction) took the lead below 2:40 (2:39.18), which would end up putting him in sixth. The top five finishers eventually came out of the final eight riders to start, with Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz) grabbing third, Peat fourth and Sam Blenkinsop (Yeti-Rock Shox) fifth, behind Atherton and Hill.
"This course definitely suited me, although at the top of the course I wasn't feeling it," commented Atherton. "You had to be on it in every turn, and the trick was to stay off the brakes and hold your speed. There were a few moments when I was right on the edge, but you had to go for it."
For Smith, who is possibly the next North American to challenge for the podium in a men's World Cup, the race was a breakthrough in more ways than one.
"This is the first World Cup that I haven't crashed in! I was trying to be smooth and not force it, because sometimes you can push it too much. I think after the US Open I learned that I can be up there, and I'm looking to be on the podium this year."
Hill continues lead the World Cup standings with 430 points, but Gee Atherton is closing in at 357 points. Smith, with 119 points is the top North American in 15th place.