The past two days in Val di Sole have seen all the big races run, jerseys won and domination by the Brits in downhill. Not only did Gee and Rachel Atherton complete the senior double, but with a win in the Junior event, Josh Bryceland made it an amazing three from three, just weeks after a spectacular crash in Maribor.
All weekend conditions stayed perfect for racing and Bryceland bought home the first gold with a storming run on a steep rocky and rooty track – everything it should be for the biggest mountain bike event in the world. The women’s race was slightly more difficult to call – while Rachel Atherton’s seeding run had been over ten seconds faster than Sabrina Jonnier, nobody was sure who was playing tactics. Talk was of rain coming over the mountain and that made what time you came down the hill crucial.
Difference was, that come race day the forecast had changed its mind and a totally dry race was back on again. In the hotseat Jonnier waited, but her worried face told the story. She knew Rachel was in a different class. By the finish, that class was over ten seconds once again and for the first time Rachel was in the winners seat at Worlds, although security wrestling Dan out of the arena was almost as surreal as the weasel that joined everyone on the podium.
For the men’s race it was Sam Hill’s massive crash at a time when he was six seconds up which proved to be the talking point. Hill, mid drift, lost control in the penultimate corner and lost any hope of retaining his title but still finished third overall, just half a second behind Steve Peat. For a moment it was looking like the stars would align and Peat could win the title everyone wanted him to, but Gee Atherton was intent on making it a pair of Athertons in matching jerseys. All the way down the track he was on the edge, drifting and making time on Peat and at the first split was two seconds up which nearly became three by the finish.
The pitch invasion followed along with the obligatory Atherton family album photocall that we have become used to this year. A great day for British downhill with two on the final podium and five medals in all (Sam Dale was second Junior).
Here’s Gee’s run from Freecaster.tv – if you only watch one piece of video on the interwebs this week, make it this one:
Straight after the excitement of the downhill came the rage of 4X, where crashes rather than spectacular riding decided the outcome in both races. In the women’s event Romana Labounkova and Anneke Beerten had only each other to blame as they tangled on a berm while in a big lead and gifted Melissa Buhl the win, while there was a similar, albeit more deliberate-looking, takedown in the men’s event.
Mickael Deldycke decided he would play dominoes with Jared Graves and Roger Rinderknecht, taking himself and both riders out of the race, with Rafael Alvares winning by default.
Fortunately the following day of XC action would have a bit of a fairer feel to it, with some fierce competition and two all new champions crowned. For the women, Marga Fullana continued her spectacular form from the recent world cups and beat Sabine Spitz and outgoing champ Irina Kalentieva.
In the men’s race it was a long overdue win for current marathon World Champion Christoph Sauser who now has the XC title to match. Sauser wasn’t overly troubled on his way to victory, with second-placed Florian Vogel almost three minutes back. Ralf Naef was in third place, closely followed by a hard-charging Liam Killeen. After not making much impact in the World Cup, Killeen’s clearly been saving himself, and surely must have the Olympics firmly in his sights. There was also a strong performance from Oli Beckingsale in 10th.