Gee Atherton (Commencal) took his second win of the season in Champery at the weekend to pull to within 13 points of Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), who finished second.
The rain, which had turned the steep 1500 metre course into a slippery mud slide during qualifying, finally backed off for race day, but the damage had been done and, in some ways, the drying conditions made things worse. As the thick mud began to dry, it clung to bikes and turned to the consistency of peanut butter, doubling the weight of bikes and slowing forward momentum to a crawl.
"It was really tough," said Atherton. "You know, some races you really enjoy, and others it's a battle the whole time. This I was just fighting the whole way, the run was hard work; it was like a battle from top to bottom. It was a matter of just finding that line, hanging it out and having it pinned, and not pushing too hard and crashing. I guess I was right on that line and right on the limit the whole time. I was half crashing all the way down the hill, just holding on, and luckily I got it dialed."
Minnaar had similar comments: "It was like Scalelectrix [model electric cars], it was one big rut the whole way down, so you just had to balance well and ride the rut as best you could."
Only six riders occupied the Hot Seat during the race, starting with the first rider on the course, Ben Cathro, who held the lead for nearly a third of the field before being unseated by Ruaridh Cunningham (Chain Reaction/Intense). Cunningham knocked an impressive 16-plus seconds off of Cathro's time, and was in the Hot Seat for 20 riders before his teammate Chris Kovarik bumped him by mere four-hundredths of a second.
"I'm pretty stoked to put that time in on that track," said Atherton. "I knew Greg had the Hot Seat, and I knew I had my work cut out, and that it was going to be hard to knock him off. It is my second win of the season and I am over the moon right now."
Minnaar continues to lead the World Cup standings with 830 points but, due to his poor qualifier and Atherton's win and second place in qualifying, the British rider is only 13 points back with two races to go.
"I'm holding onto the [World Cup] lead by the skin of my teeth at this point," commented Minnaar, "and with two to go, it's not much of a gap. Gee and I will have to fight it out right to the end."
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