The fifth round of the Downhill World Cup, in Windham, NY, had a clear favourite before the race started: almost every one of the thousands of fans on the hill was rooting for Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing) to repeat as the men's winner in front of his family and friends, on home soil.
He did so in a stunning fashion, winning his fourth World Cup in five starts this season, and extending his two year record to nine wins in 12 starts.
World champion Danny Hart (Giant Factory) set the first sub-2:30 time, which would hold up for fourth, but three of the top-10 riders would better it. Gee Atherton (GT Factory), riding ninth from last, knocked over a second off, and then the last two on the course both lowered it again. Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing), chasing his first World Cup victory, was eight-tenths of a second faster than Atherton, but Gwin was even faster, finishing nearly a second ahead.
"This was tight, real tight," commented Gwin. "This track is one of those tracks. All week you just knew you were going to have to be perfect on all your runs to make it happen. Any mistake was going to really cost you. The run was going awesome and then I ran over some poles just before the split. I just barely kept it in line. I thought for a second I was going down. I had to bunny hop over it. Then down near the bottom my chain came off, but luckily it went back on. I am so stoked. Man, this is as good as it gets for me. I've got my family and friends, and all these people here. It makes it so fun."
Gwin now holds a 295 point lead over Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) with two rounds remaining, making it almost impossible for him to be beaten in his quest for a second World Cup title. Gee Atherton remains in third, 354 points in arrears.
Atherton wins despite controversy
Round five of the Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup in Windham, NY, saw Rachel Atherton (GT Factory) take her third victory in four races, and claim the overall leader's jersey, despite a controversial decision not to disqualify her for exiting the course.
The hot, dry conditions that have turned the track into a dusty, loose and fast run all week, persisted for race day. The short, sub-three minute run meant that there was no margin for error, and a few riders either flatted or crashed out of contention as they pushed the limits.
Third ranked woman Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction) started uncharacteristically early after crashing in qualifying, and set the first sub-three minute time for the women. It would stand up until the final five women, when it was beaten by four riders. First, Emilie Seigenthaler (Scott 11) knocked 1.3 seconds off. American champion Jill Kintner (Norco International) was next, but crashed out, breaking her arm. Then Tracey Hannah, winner of round one, rode and took over the hot seat, two seconds faster than Seigenthaler.
"I've been struggling on some of the longer courses as I get used to racing those distances again," explained Hannah. "This shorter, fast course was more to my liking."
However, World Cup leader Emmeline Ragot (MS Mondraker) was right behind her, and looked to be on a good run, over three seconds ahead by the second split time. Unfortunately for Ragot, she was hit by a crosswind on the final jump, crashing within sight of the finish line, pushing her behind Hannah after she ran across the line, dragging her bike.
Atherton, the fastest qualifier, was last to ride. The British rider was fastest at both splits but then almost crashed herself after a jump, due to the wind which blew her sideways while she was in the air. The GT rider remarkably managed to avoid going down, fishtailing off the course before recovering without coming to a stop. She managed to finish a slim 0.262 seconds ahead of Hannah.
This set up a controversy: Atherton clearly did not re-enter the course where she had exited it, which traditionally has meant disqualification. However, the rules were changed in recent years, allowing the Commissaire President to avoid disqualifying a rider if he or she did not gain an advantage.
It was clear that Atherton had not gained an advantage, but for Ragot's MS Mondraker team it left a bitter taste when they lost the leader's jersey over what they felt was an incorrect interpretation of the regulations.
"When I crossed the line I didn't even think that I'd be disqualified," explained Atherton. "I celebrated and then they said we're not sure if the commissaire is ok. So we waited and waited. Everyone kept saying 'Yah you have the win'. It kind of puts a dampener on things, but at the end of the day the commissaires was ok with it. I lost all my time, I was two seconds up at the split and I lost all that time, so it's the commissaire's decision It has been an amazing season so far. The girls are getting so fast. Emmeline is on fire and she pushes me on. I have to step my game up every race. It is exciting to have everyone going so fast."
Atherton takes over the World Cup lead after five rounds with 950 points, 30 points in front of Ragot. Nicole continues to hold third with 751 points, followed by Hannah at 732.
For full results, reports and photos of the Mountain Bike World Cup at Windham, visit Cyclingnews.com.