The 2014 Downhill World Cup season finally reached its end this weekend, and what a season it’s been! It feels like only a few weeks since the tour kicked off in South Africa and now it’s come to a close on an epic track in France. The Méribel course lived up to expectations and created some great racing, and the 50,000 rabid fans made for an incredible finals atmosphere. Let’s take a look at just what went down..
Your men's World Cup champion
The pressure was certainly on Josh Bryceland this weekend, with the series title being his to lose – but there was simply no stopping him. In qualifying, Bryceland finished in second place despite a crash in the middle woods, beating his two biggest rivals for the title, Troy Brosnan and Aaron Gwin, and gaining crucial extra points. When they both had less-than-perfect runs in the finals, all Bryceland needed was a top 20. Of course he went for it and finished third – another great result for the Rat. Josh Bryceland – Rockstar/2014 World Cup champion.
With two World Cup wins under his belt, third place on the rooty, rocky slopes of Méribel was enough for Josh Bryceland to take the series title
Simmonds’ breakout ride
Matt Simmonds had one last chance to get on a World Cup podium this year, and he took it with both hands. After qualifying in first place, the pressure was on. At the first split he was outside the top 10 but by the second split the time flashed green and he was up. He'd lose less than half a second in the grass turns at the bottom and finish in a career best second place – not bad for your first visit to the podium! This result jumped him from 10th to sixth in the overall, and showed the world he’s not just a powerhouse.
Gwin and Brosnan had a rough go of it in Méribel, on a weekend when either one of them could have won the title. Brosnan punctured in qualifying, losing valuable points, and followed that up with a small crash in his final run. Gwin, on the other hand, was just slightly off the pace, finishing outside the top five in both runs, though he did finish second in the overall standings – a great season considering his disappointing results last year. Though Brosnan’s weekend will be one to he wants to forget, he had an incredible year too, leading the points for a while and winning his first World Cup race. Look for these two to be back in contention for the World Champs.
Aaron Gwin was slightly off the pace - but finishing second in the overall standings must have been a relief after a disappointing 2013
Sam Hill chalked up his second win of the season this weekend in classic Sam Hill fashion. Let’s just assume that if it's technical and doesn’t involve much pedalling, it’s Hill’s to lose. Sam said he was going to win as soon as the teams had finished walking the course, and he was right. He did the same for his win in Canada. Hill’s qualifier had a few people fooled but when it really counted he got it done, and his result left him just a single point back from Brosnan in the overall standings. Watch out World Champs...
Sam Hill's pace on the flat grassy turns at the bottom of the course had to be seen to be believed!
The French crowd wanted nothing less than a win from Loris Vergier this weekend, and he had the Junior overall title to deal with too. He delivered under huge pressure, winning on home soil and taking back the points lead from Luca Shaw. That’s the second time Vergier has won the title in as many tries. Luca’s weekend didn’t pan out as he'd hoped, with a big crash in practice slowing him down. Both riders rode well all year and it won’t be long before they’re contenders in the Elite men’s class.
Manon holds on
The women’s title was Manon Carpenter’s to lose, and while Rachel Atherton was a dominant force all weekend, Carpenter did more than enough to hold on to her points lead and seal her first Elite women’s World Cup title. Consistency all season long paid off for Carpenter while her competitors struggled to find it. A great season for Carpenter and her team – can she keep the season’s success going with another win at the World Champs? Atherton is certainly not going to want to let the jersey slip away.
At the start of the year, Manon Carpenter had never won a World Cup. Now she's the reigning champ, with three wins under her belt
British downhill has always been strong but this weekend proved we’re really starting to take over. The Brits won both overall titles, and in qualifying half of the top 20 Elite men were British. If that weren’t enough, Laurie Greenland and Taylor Vernon finished second and third respectively in the Junior category, Phil Atwill had a career best finish of 14th in his first year as an Elite rider, and the man who arguably started it all, Steve Peat, finished inside the top 20 overall. Not bad for a 40-year-old. Will we get a British world champion, or even two, in two weeks' time?
Rachel Atherton bounced back from the health problems that have plagued her all season to take the win in France. She'll be a force to be reckoned with at the World Champs
So that’s a wrap on the 2014 World Cup season – one that'll go down as one of the most exciting years of racing in quite some time. With multiple different winners in every category there was never a safe bet – exactly what the series needed to get its excitement back. Here’s hoping the 2015 season is just as good! Check back in two weeks' time for the World Championships in Norway, the last race of the season.
Missed the race? Watch the full replay on Red Bull TV: http://www.redbull.com/en/bike/stories/1331670774476/replay-uci-dh-world-cup-2014-m%C3%A9ribel