The men's downhill competition tightened after round five in Val di Sole, Italy yesterday as Marc Beaumont (GT) secured the second World Cup win of his career.
Canada's Steve Smith (MS Evil) finished fifth behind Trek World Racing's Andrew Neethling, becoming the first Canadian man in at least a decade to make a podium appearance at a Downhill World Cup.
There were two races in the men's competition – the one for the World Cup win, and the one between Minnaar and Atherton for the overall title. Atherton qualified first, on the course where he had won his world title in 2008, while Minnaar struggled in the upper, rocky section.
This actually put Atherton into the World Cup lead, based on ranking points awarded for qualifying. However, a similar situation had happened a week earlier at Champéry, where Minnaar had pulled out a stellar final run to retain his leader's jersey.
Australian Mitchell Delfs set the first fast time for the men, only to be bumped by Markus Pekoll (Solid A-Class). Pekoll spent a long time in the Hot Seat, and his time would eventually hold up for 10th place. It took Minnaar to finally knock the Austrian rider out of the lead, and his time would stand up to six riders before Beaumont finally took the best time down by nearly a second-and-a-half.
At that point there were still seven riders to go, but none came close to unseating Beaumont until there was only Atherton left. Gee was over a second slower at the first split, and even further back at the second, eventually finishing third, behind Minnaar. However, the difference between second and third was not enough to keep Minnaar in the leader's jersey and Atherton took it by a mere seven points – 1,007 points to 1,000 after five rounds of racing.
"Qualifying went pretty well," said Beaumont, "Just steady and I put a nice run together. I was feeling good again this morning, so I just tried to go about it as if it was practice. I posted a pretty good time, but there's some fast boys, and I was thinking maybe I can scrape a podium. I wasn't expecting to win by any means. I'm pretty shocked.
"My previous win in Spain [in 2007], a lot of people frowned upon it, because it was weird circumstances with the weather. This proves to me that I'm capable of doing it, and I've done it on a level playing field. Hopefully this is kind of a resurgence, and I can get on the podium a little more often."
For Atherton, it was a bittersweet victory. "I knew that I had to put a solid run in, in qualifying, and start chasing the points," he said. "It's what saved me and has given me the lead. But taking third place wasn't exactly my game plan... it's good enough, though.
"It's definitely been my best season, but it's been frustrating watching Greg, being so consistent. I've been waiting for him to slip up and hammer some points, but it hasn't happened. He's really making me work for it.
"I didn't make mistakes, exactly, but you do have to have a faultless run. I was riding a bit nervous and a bit tense, and really just fighting the bike all the way down, not flowing at all, and it showed in my results."
Smith, who has a string of top 10 results and has finished as high as sixth at World Cups in the past, was happy to finally make it onto the podium. "I crashed out in two of the other four [World Cups], so I just wanted to have a clean run here and have a solid race," he said.
"I wasn't expecting to get on the podium, but conditions were tough up there, really loose powder, so anything can happen, and I just squeezed on the podium. I loved this track, it's rough and hard, first day of riding it I knew that I loved it."
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