June 5/05 2:49 am - Willingen World Cup DH Report
Posted by Editoress on 06/5/05
MTB World Cup DH #2 Willingen, Germany
Reports brought to with the support of Human Kinetics Publishers and Gestev
Unfortunately, the Willingen World Cup weekend ended on a sour note when the men refused to race the 4-Cross, and only 8 women did - under duress. Anneke Beerten (Specialized) was the winner, but all riders on the podium turned their backs to the cameras.
The downhill, on the other hand, was a complete success. Anne-Caroline Chausson (COX) made her return to World Cup competition after recovering from a broken shoulder at the World Championships last fall, with a convincing win, while Greg Minnaar (Honda) took the leader's jersey in the men's category with his victory.
The 1.5 kilometre course was quite different from most World Cups runs. To begin with, it was built from scratch for this event with a gravel base and many jumps in the upper half - none of the usual rocks, roots and mud. The lower section sent the riders out onto a grassy field, which turned to mud after it rained the night before (and during the latter part of the men's race).
The women did not face rain, but the mud that had been churned up in training was expected to make it a strength sapping slog on the lower sections. Combined with the power required to successfully make the jumps at the top, it was a course made for Chausson.
Chausson came through the lower section noticeably faster than the other women, and was getting bigger air and longer jumps than the rest, showing that her long layoff has not hurt her abilities.
"It was hard. This was my first big race since Les Gets, and I could tell, because it was harder for me to do the jumps. I just got back on my downhill bike three weeks ago, so I am still improving everyday. Now, I just need to race more."
Chausson's heir apparent, 19 year old Emmeline Ragot (QBS) was second. The young French rider is a two time Junior world champion, and beat the current world champion, Vanessa Quin, by just over half a second. Sabrina Jonnier, winner of the first round in Vigo, Spain, was fifth and managed to hold onto the series lead, ahead of Rachel Atherton.
In the men's race, Dan Atherton very nearly turned a poor start position after a crash in the semifinal into a victory. The Brit went 21st from last to post a blazing fast 2:23.04 . As rider after rider came down his time stood up - but the top-10 riders were still to come.
Then it started to rain, and riders began sliding in the corners of the lower grassy section of the course. Nathan Rennie put in a phenomenal ride at the height of the rain, but could only manage to get within 15th hundredths of a second. Without the rain, it certainly would have been a faster run. Chris Kovarik, back after a year away from the sport because of a broken leg, also turned in a very fast time, but was over a second and a half back. Cedric Gracia (Siemens Cannondale) and Atherton's older brother George could only manage to crack the top-10, as could Sam Hill and Matti Lehikoinen.
Finally, there were only two riders left - Minnaar, and the fastest qualifier, Mick Hannah. Minnaar was blazing fast through all sections of the course, particularly the upper portion, where he was four seconds ahead of Atherton. He lost half a second on the lower part, but still decisively took over the lead. Hannah also looked to be on a fast run, but misjudged a couple of stutter bumps in the upper portion, crashing and body surfing down the rocks, and then having to search out his bike in the forest.
Minnaar professed to be surprised at his victory: "I am not a real big guy, so I don't have the power for a course with this much pedaling. But I knew I had to get over the first double, and then I had a chance. I have been working on it all week, and I cleaned it good in the final. Then it was pretty smooth the rest of the way until the bottom, and I took it a little easier there on the open grass."
Minnaar also had to overcome losing his race bike earlier in the week: "Someone broke into our truck Tuesday night, the night before training started, and cleaned out all our bikes. Luckily, there was enough spare parts to build up another bike - the mechanics, and the engineers from Honda had to work day and night to get us going. It was a problem earlier in the week, because nothing felt right - the brakes weren't set up the way I want and other stuff as well; it all put my rhythm out. But, it all came together today."
- Steve Peat, the winner of the first round was a no-show, after breaking his shoulder two weeks ago during training for the British 4-Cross national championship. The injury required surgery, and he is expected to be out of action for at least 5 to 6 weeks.
After the start gate broke part way through competition on Saturday night, the decision was made to finish the competition after the downhill. Unfortunately, the electronic gate couldn't be fixed (rain the night before had damaged the circuitry). The officials decided the heats would be run manually ("ready-set-go"). The riders were strongly against this, and the men boycotted the event enmass.
The women appeared to be in the same situation, however, a few riders decided to race, and the UCI announced that World Cup points would be awarded. This pushed other riders into participating and eventually 8 riders took part. Jill Kintner, the winner of the first round in Vigo, didn't race, mistakenly believing that the race had been cancelled. Beerten, second in Vigo, did.
"The UCI was telling us 'go in the gate, there is a race'. I asked my team manager what I should do, and he said ' go in the gate'. It was a weird feeling." said an upset Beerten following the race.
Afterwards, riders clustered around officials and race organizers, many saying that the race should be cancelled, but the decision was firm - the race had taken place. The riders on the podium protested by turning their backs to the small crowd that had stayed on to the bitter end.