Posted by Editoress on 06/22/08
MTB World Championships Val di Sole, Italy
Coverage brought to you with the assistance of Velirium
Saturday was Great Britain Day at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Val di Sole, with the Brits winning world titles in three of the four downhill categories contested. The only one they didn't win was the Junior Women, which was swept by the French. However, GB didn't have any entrants in that race.
The good weather that has blessed the area since Wednesday continued, making the downhill course dry and very, very fast. In the Junior Women's category, Canada's Miranda Miller was the early leader, eventually finishing fourth. She was knocked from the Hot Seat by the first of the French medalists, Myriam Nicole, who took the silver medal. Nicole's compatriot, Melanie Pugin, bumped Miller into third with the second fastest run, and then the last rider down, Anais Pajot completely trounced the field with a run nearly six seconds faster than Nicole.
On to the large (65 rider) Junior men's field. The qualifying was dominated by Commonwealth riders, with all but the fastest from Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia. However, the fastest was the French rider Remi Thirion. Great Britain set the first fast time with Danny Hart halfway through the field. From that point on it would only be a British rider in the Hot Seat.
Hart kept the Seat until Sam Dale came through seventh from the end, knocking a little under three seconds off the best time, and then Dale was in the lead until Josh Bryceland, the second last rider took a staggering seven and a half seconds off the top time to win Britain's first gold medal of the day. Thirion managed to slot into third for the bronze
"I'm really, really happy," said Bryceland. "Last year I punctured, and who knows whether I could have won. It was so devastating, and this year makes up for it. My run was good, I had one little problem up at the top when I hit a rock, but after that it was smooth all the way."
Canada's Simon Garstin held a brief stint in the Hot Seat after setting the fastest mid-field time, and eventually finished a very strong 16th.
The women were up next, and this was to be a battle between Rachel Atherton (Great Britain), the fastest qualifier, and defending world champion Sabrina Jonnier (France), who has been battling all season with Atherton in the World Cups.
Canadian national champion Micayla Gatto set the first quick time (eventually finishing 12th), but was immediately eclipsed by American Melissa Buhl. From here it went down slowly, with Tracy Moseley (Great Britain) taking a brief turn in the Hot Seat. Jonnier, third from last, took an eight second jump into the lead, which her compatriot Emmeline Ragot could not match, so it was all down to Atherton to dethrone Jonnier.
Atherton did so with ease, finishing a whopping 12 seconds in the lead. At all intermediate time checks the young Brit was gaining time, and swept into the finish area to huge applause.
"I knew that I was on a pretty good run, but it's was funny - I had been really nervous all day, until I got into the gondola to go to the start. At that point my nerves went away. After I heard about Josh [Bryceland], it took some pressure off, I think, and I could treat it like a normal practice run. I couldn't believe it when I crossed the line, everyone went mental."
For the men's final, the last ten start spots were stacked with medal contenders, led by Gee Atherton (Great Britain), who qualified first. The only person missing was multiple world champion Fabien Barel (France), who had flatted in qualifying and rode midfield. Barel set the standard, at 3:17.92, and would eventually finish fifth.
The first to finally knock Barel out of the Hot Seat was crowd favourite Steve Peat (Great Britain). Peat took 2.2 seconds off the top time. However, defending two-time champion Sam Hill (Australia) was coming down three riders later, and was expected to smash that time.
He was on track to do that, a huge seven seconds ahead with one corner and a straightaway to go, when disaster struck: a crash on the loose gravel coming out of a corner and Hill was sliding down the track on his stomach, after smacking his helmet on the ground. Amazingly, Hill managed to grab his bike and still get to the finish line with a time quick enough to win the bronze medal.
"My back wheel slid a bit, and then I caught my front wheel and went over," explained Hill.
There were four riders left between Peat and the only award missing from his medal case - the rainbow jersey. Justin Leov (New Zealand) could only manage sixth, and Greg Minnaar (South Africa) slotted in behind Hill, leaving just Gee Atherton.
At the intermediate checkpoint he was two seconds ahead of Peat, and he managed to add another half a second in the lower portion, to give Britain their third gold medal of the day.
Peat was visibly disappointed at missing out at the title again, but happy to see another Brit win. "On the first corner down I made a mistake, so I didn't think my time would stick. But then Sam went down, and I started to think that this could be my year. It's so hard to have to wait for the last man. I'm really happy for Gee, but I think it would have been better the other way around for me!"
Atherton revealed that he struggled a bit at the top of the run. "It was a course where you had to be on the gas all the way down, and still be consistent; there was no margin for error. My run wasn't perfect, and I made mistakes. My rhythm was a little off at the top, but I managed to find it at the bottom."
Andrew Mitchell was the top Canadian, in 36th place. Top-10 contender Steve Smith, as explained in an earlier report is back in Canada after a knee injury during training at the Fort William World Cup.
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