Posted by Editoress on 09/11/04
Mountain Bike World Championships Les Gets, France
Fabien Barel reclaimed French honour by winning the men's downhill title, after the unbeatable Anne-Caroline Chausson could not start the women's race due to an injury suffered in training. Barel's victory came in the final moments, when top-seeded Steve Peat (Great Britain) crashed within sight of the finish line, while over a second ahead. Defending champion Greg Minnaar (South Africa) was second, and former Junior champion Sam Hill (Australia) third. Canada's top hope, Dustin Adams, ran into mechanical problems and rolled through the finish in 101st spot, while Mathieu laurin was the top finisher, in 41st place.
The threat of rain led to a number of riders posting purposely slow times in the seeding run, hoping that they would therefore ride before the onset of any precipitation. Despite an early morning sprinkle, the rain held off, leaving the trail dusty and loose. Hill was the second rider out of the gate, and his time of 2:42.20 would hold up for over half an hour, until Minnaar managed to knock eight-tenths off the top time. Approximately 16 minutes later, Barel soared across the finish line and into the hotseat, six-tenths of a second faster again.
However, there were still 32 riders to come, including Peat, the fastest qualifier, and the World Cup champion (he locked up the title in Calgary). Peat came through the first time check a full second faster than Barel, and looked to be on track to break his record of three second places. Unfortunately for him, coming out of the final wooded section and into a small compression before the last two jumps, Peat lost control in spectacular fashion, flipping over in a cloud of dust and ripping through the course tape. He quickly got up and going, but the damage had been done, and he would finish 11th, 4.69 seconds down.
Afterwards, he was stunned at the finish line, unable to believe that the world title had slipped from his grasp again.
"I think there was a root there and it kicked my wheel out, spun me around. I knew I was on a good run, but I didn't know I was leading. I hadn't had a problem there all week, I've been making time on people, but you've got to have a perfect run on the day."
Barel had actually conceded victory to Peat. "I was waiting for Steve. I knew my time was good, but when I saw Steve passing one second in front (at the intermediate check), I knew he would make it and I stood up and started to clap for him.
But then everyone started crying 'you are the world champion!', and I saw the dust, and then I started to realize I had done it. I prepared for this race for a year and a half; I prepared only for this race. To win here in Les Gets is exceptional.
It is only in a dream that you think this happens, and then it becomes real."
The biggest news of the women's race was that the overwhelming favourite, Anne-Caroline Chausson of France, would not be starting after a crash in training. This threw the field wide open, with New Zealand's Vanessa Quin, the second fastest in qualifying, coming down last to snatch the title from former junior world champion Mio Suemasa of Japan. Canadian national champion Michelle Dumaresq got tangled up in course tape after going wide in a corner, putting paid to her hopes (she was ninth fastest through the intermediate split), however, Danika Schroeter put together a solid ride for ninth (and spent some time in the hotseat)
American April Lawyer set the early fast time of 3:22.20, which stood up until countrywoman Kathy Pruitt knocked nearly six seconds off. Suemasa came through two riders later to take a further four and a half seconds off, and her time stood until Quin, who was a further 2.78 seconds ahead.
"The run was the same as practice for me, and I hit all my lines." explained Quin, "but not having Anne-Caroline there was a big deal, and made it more of an open book, and some of us handled it better than others. It was a funny kind of feeling, to know that you definitely were not racing for second. All the women were nervous, because they suddenly had a chance."
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