This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Rachel Atherton (Great Britain) won the elite women's downhill world championship in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on Sunday afternoon. Frenchwoman Emmeline Ragot earned the silver medal while Australian Tracey Hannah claimed bronze.
Atherton was celebrating her second-ever downhill world title. Her first was in Val di Sole, Italy in 2008.
"It was a shock to come here," said Atherton, who had never previously raced in Pietermaritzburg, having missed the earlier World Cups here due to injuries.
"The track was way harder than I expected. It's been such a close season, you don't have much time to prepare for this specific race. I was pretty nervous and didn't know how anyone would go. I figured a lot of people took it easy in the timed run, and I didn't know how they would go today." Atherton was the fastest women during the time session.
Former four cross world champion Caroline Buchanan (Australia) was the first woman down the mountain, setting the first fast time of 4:41.655 on a sunny, beautiful day.
Three riders later, fellow Aussie Tracey Hannah, who has just returned to racing after breaking her collarbone, clocked a 4:40.438, a time that would hold up well enough for third on the day.
"I like the fact that this track is dry and dusty. It reminds me of home," said Hannah. "I like when you can hold it wide open and just brake check occasionally."
"The world champs were my focus until I broke my collarbone seven weeks ago. I learned a lot in the last seven weeks and didn't come into the race with too high expectations."
Jill Kintner (United States of America) put in a solid run to stop the clock at 4:41.468, which put her in second spot at the time.
Hannah, Kintner and Buchanan would occupy the hot seats until the heavy favorites got their turn to come down the mountain in what were dry and dusty conditions on a notoriously pedally track.
Neither French gravity rider Myriam Nicole nor 2012 world champion Morgane Charre (France) could go fast enough to get into the top three.
Manon Carpenter (Great Britain) made a mistake up top and lost 34 seconds before the first split, an un-recoverable error.
"I started good - hard out of the gate, but then about 15 seconds in, a rock just caught my wheel and pushed me off the track. I landed on a photographer who was lying on the ground. I hope he was ok. That was it for my race after just a few seconds into it. I know I can do well on this track. It feels like a bit of a waste."
2009 and 2011 world champion Emmeline Ragot (France) was the second to last woman down the mountain, and after making up five seconds on the upper part of the course, she set a new best time of 4:36.675, improving on Hannah's time by 3.763 seconds.
"It's a hard track. I feel like I'm too small for this track," said Ragot. "I like the technical parts, but can't carry speed. I pegged a tree during my race run, but I was trying to push hard. It was fun. It was a lot of pedalling - a little too physical for me."
Finally, Atherton was up, and she blazed down the track with a super smooth run. She was 1.7 seconds up on Ragot at split 1, then up to eight seconds ahead at split 2. She finish 8.632 seconds faster than Ragot crossing the line for the gold medal.
Atherton wisely chose where to expend energy and where to conserve energy based on her own strengths and weaknesses. "On this track, if you're good at pedalling, you can push hard at the bits where you know you're going to be slow."