This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
The final round of the 2012 UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup in Hafjell, Norway, produced a first-time winner in the men's competition, with Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) beating out his teammate George Brannigan. While the battle for the men's overall downhill World Cup title was over after round six, with Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) having locked it up by virtue of his four wins, the competition for second in the final standings was far from done, with world champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) a mere 19 points in front of Gee Atherton (GT Factory Racing).
Markus Pekoll (MS Mondraker) was the first man to spend an appreciable time in the hot seat, eventually finishing ninth with his 3:36.712, after holding the lead time for 30 riders before Cameron Cole (Lapierre International) finally supplanted him by 0.649 seconds with 18 riders to go. Ten riders later, Atherton took the lead by nearly two seconds, but didn't have much time to enjoy it before Minnaar bumped him by a tenth of a second, ensuring his second place in the overall standings.
The four riders remaining would all have been a first-time winner of a World Cup. Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) struggled in the upper half of the course, putting him out of contention. Brannigan had a poor start in the upper part of the course also, but recovered strongly to take the lead by 1.734 seconds. Second place qualifier Robin Wallner (Are Bikepark by W-Racing) seemed to succumb to the pressure, finishing well off the pace in 17th.
This left Smith, the bronze medalist at the world championships, with the only chance left to replace his teammate Brannigan on the top step. The Canadian has had multiple podium appearances over the past couple of years, but was still looking to win his first World Cup. It was clear that this course suited him, as he recorded the fastest splits both at the top and middle portions of the course, visibly faster than anyone else through the rock gardens, to come in four-tenths of a second faster that Brannigan at the bottom.
"I am so happy right now," said Smith. "I have never won a World Cup before; it has been a dream of mine. I had no idea when I was running how it was going. The wind was such a bad headwind. The track is so fast, but it didn't feel like I could go any faster, because that headwind was so hard, but everyone had the same. I am so stoked."
"It is insane. I can't believe the team is finishing the season this way. All three of us on the podium today. Three of the five! It's George's (Brannigan) first ever podium, Nick [Beer - fifth] first podium this year, so for the Devinci team we are all so stoked right now."
Gwin won the men's World Cup title with 1260 points to Minnaar's 1162, with Atherton at 1123 and Smith in fourth at 930. Australia's Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Specialized), by virtue of his seventh place and the absence of injured Danny Hart (Giant Factory) moved from sixth to fifth in the final standings.
"It's a great feeling [winning the World Cup overall]," agreed Gwin. "A little bittersweet not being able to race, but definitely a really awesome year for me, I can't complain. It has been great. Congrats to Stevie [Smith], that was cool to see."
"On the first day of practice, I had a pretty big crash in the rock section, that was a bit of a bummer. I was feeling good and looking forward to having some fun at this race, but that is the way it goes. It could be a lot worse, I guess. Yes, it is disappointing not to be in the last race of the season. You always want to end the year strong, and I kind of did this last year too. Kind of a bummer but I will have no shortage of motivation for the off season."