By Sue George, Cyclingnews.com
Sunday, September 4, 2011 4.54pm
Danny Hart wins first elite downhill world title
Two years after winning the junior World Cup title, Danny Hart (Great Britain) raced to his first elite downhill win at the World Championships in Champery, Switzerland. On an epic day with torrential rains and a technically challenging course, Hart was the only rider to make his ride look easy in the slippery, muddy, extremely treacherous conditions. Damien Spagnolo (France) and Sam Blenkinsop (New Zealand) earned the silver and bronze medals.
Racing in the rain, which had started several hours earlier, Remi Thiron (France) set one of the early fast times at 4:01.754. It was good enough to hold up for 11th on the day, even though almost 30 racers came after him.
Brendan Fairclough (Great Britain) bumped up the best time to 3:55.124 and became the first man to go under four minutes. It was almost good enough for a medal, but fell just one spot short.
Then came the favorites, one by one, down the mountain. In the conditions, it was a question of where each would dab and whether they would crash, and if so how many times. The closer it got to the top 10, the harder it rained.
Defending champion Sam Hill, just recently back to racing after injury, finished a respectable seventh at 3:57.890. He did not crash, but a few dabs cost him some important time.
Spagnolo was next with a 3:53.688, and he took over the hot seat despite at least two slips during his run. Staying upright was key, though, as many of the favorites were making major mistakes.
Perhaps the most spectacular crash was that of Josh Bryceland (Great Britain), who suddenly found himself doing a superman through the air. He landed hard and slid far in the mud while his bike went end over end a few times and down over the side of the course. Bryceland had to scramble over the barrier and down the hill to retrieve it, then climb back up with a muddy, heavy bike, but he was not obviously injured and managed to finish in 7:52.919.
Blenkinsop had a good run at 3:54.982, even after coming almost to a stop when he got his wheel stuck en route. The run put him in second place for the time being.
Former world champion Steve Peat's turn came and went - he did not appear to be a contender. Then came Marc Beaumont (Great Britain), Justin Leov (New Zealand), Andrew Neethling (South Africa), and Brook MacDonald (New Zealand). Leov crashed, Neethling near went off cousre and MacDonald had a few dabs.
That left the top four. Hart led them off and put in a brilliant run as he carried speed easily throughout and made it look like it really wasn't that slippery. He was four seconds up at the first split, then had a bit of a fishtail, but managed to keep it upright and fast. By the second split, he was nine seconds up, and he had so much time to spare that he styled a few jumps near the bottom, much to the delight of the drenched fans.
All eyes were on Gee Atherton (Great Britain), but it was not his day. He looked slower than Hart and was 10 seconds down on him by the first split. Things only got worse for the 2008 World Champion as he suffered two major crashes on the way down, and he was so covered in mud by the bottom, you could barely see the blue and red of his kit.
Second to last, Greg Minnaar (South Africa) took the start, but he too looked slower than Hart and was 15 seconds behind by the first split.
That left World Cup champion Aaron Gwin (United States), who was considered the favorite going into the race. He was within one second of Hart at the first split and looked on track for a good run, when his winning streak came to an abrupt end. He crashed at high speed and got caught in the course netting. By the time he had stopped and untangled himself, his medal chances were done. He finished 12th.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.