The ‘most exciting season ever’ continued this weekend in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, with a fifth male winner in five rounds, a dominating performance in the Women’s and a new points leader in the Juniors. MSA proved to be the most challenging track of the year, with Gee Atherton, Stevie Smith, Brook MacDonald and Greg Minnaar all having big crashes during practice. Let’s take a closer look at what went on...
Flat Pedal Thunder
Sam Hill’s win may well go down as the most popular victory of 2014. He beat everyone straight-up on a real mountain bike track, and after years of struggle and injury put himself back on the top step. Hill earned CRC/Nukeproof their first ever World Cup win and moved himself into fourth overall in the series rankings, passing Atherton in the points. If anyone’s wondering what a confident Sam Hill can achieve, take a look at some of the 2007 World Cup videos. Hill spent last month at home training with a plan of winning the rest of this year’s races – so far his plan looks to be on track.
Nightmare season for Smith
Stevie Smith can’t seem to buy any luck this year after picking up another injury this weekend. Smith looked strong coming into the race, hoping to repeat last year’s success. But a small mistake during practice had him watching the race from the sidelines after injuring his other ankle. The X-ray showed no breaks so he may be back for World Championships, but right now things aren't looking great for the former champion.
Harry Heath flying high
Harry Heath of the Dirt Orange World Team finished in a career-high 12th place this weekend, an incredible result for the young Englishman. It’s a great accomplishment for a new team and the best result Orange have had in quite some time.
Luca Shaw won both qualifying and finals this weekend, inherited the points lead and will race in his home country next weekend wearing the leader's jersey. He sits just four points ahead of Loris Vergier with two rounds to go, one in his home country and one in Loris’s. Loris appears to have more speed than Luca but can’t seem to put that into a full race run, crashing in both timed runs this weekend. Whatever happens, this title is now going to go right down to the finals and both riders are more than deserving of taking it.
Closing the deal
Manon Carpenter lost to Rachel Atherton twice during the break from World Cup racing at national rounds but this weekend she was back on form and dominated with a 1-1 performance. She now sits 160 points ahead of Emmeline Ragot and 180 ahead of Atherton with two rounds to go. If she continues with these types of results next weekend and avoids problems, the title is almost certainly hers.
Rachel Atherton, Manon Carpenter and Emmeline Ragot – the smiles mask bitter rivalry!
At the start of the season, Madison Saracen’s Sam Dale put together a string of incredible results but it’s now his teammate Matt Simmonds who’s finding himself comfortably inside the top 10. Simmonds is inching closer and closer to the podium each week, this weekend finishing in eighth place, less than a second back on fifth. After qualifying in fifth, people thought this weekend might be his podium day, but a few riders sneaked in front of him. With two rounds to go Simmonds will be hungrier than ever to crack the top five. He also has a chance at finishing in the top 10 overall.
The Wave continues
Josh Bryceland had another great weekend, with a win in qualifying and a second place finish in the finals. These results helped him move past Aaron Gwin in the overall rankings, to within just 42 points of the lead. If Bryceland can beat Troy Brosnan next week he could find himself in the leader’s jersey –something Steve Peat must have seen coming years before the rest of us.
Gee Atherton needed a good weekend to get himself back in contention for the title race and sadly that didn’t happen. A big crash during practice that would have put almost anyone else out of even being able to ride meant he could only manage a 10th place finish – something that with a seriously damaged wrist is highly impressive. Gee will surely win races and be in contention for titles again but it’s not looking likely for this year. Gee battles with Mont-Sainte-Anne nearly every year and it seems most years it wins.
For the past year-and-a-half we haven’t really seen what Danny Hart is capable of. He always shines at Fort William but he's normally expected to be a podium guy on every track and this weekend he got back to that. Danny is one of the riders who isn't benefiting from this year's more bike park style tracks and was clearly happy to get back to a real track. He finished in an impressive third place and with the next two tracks likely to suit him also, he could work his way into a top five overall position.
Danny Hart relishes the longer, rougher tracks - the season's remaining races should be much more up his alley
Handling the pressure
All eyes were on Troy Brosnan this weekend to see how he handled the pressure of leading the series, and it seems he handled it well. Qualifying in second and finishing fourth, he gained valuable points on Gwin but would lose some to Bryceland. To keep the leader's jersey he needs to beat Bryceland at the next two races and not lose too many points to Gwin and Hill. No small task, but one that Brosnan may well be capable of.
Watch the full replay here: http://bcove.me/v0bpykof