After a month off the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup circus returned to normal service with a visit to Champéry, Switzerland for round four of both the DH and XC series, a weekend which saw Gee Atherton stamp his authority all over the race.
In a hotly contested final, Gee Atherton (Commencal) took his second win of the season to bring him just 13 points away of current World Cup leader Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate).
In the Women's race, World Champion Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Center) took the first World Cup victory of her career and jumped into third in the women's overall standings behind leader Sabrina Jonnier (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain).
Rain throughout the weekend turned the course into a slippery mud slide during qualifying but fortunately backed off for the 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, doubling the weight of bikes and slowing forward momentum to a crawl.
In the women's race, Floriane Pugin (Scott 11) set the first fast, sub-6 minute time. The young French rider stayed in the Hot Seat until the final three riders came down, with Ragot racing third from last and knocking over eleven and a half seconds off the top time. Jonnier was next, and moved into second, still nearly five seconds behind Ragot, and the fastest qualifier, Myriam Nicole (Commencal Superiders) slotted into third.
Jonnier now has 850 points to Pugin's 645, with Ragot up to 615 points.
In the men's race, only six riders occupied the Hot Seat. The time steadily dropped until Minnaar came through the finish nearly nine seconds faster than the previous leader, and it started to look like the World Cup leader had shaken off a poor qualifying run and was on track for his third victory of the season.
However, Atherton was fastest through both intermediate splits and flew into the finish nearly three seconds faster than his rival. Only top qualifier Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International) was left to ride, and he could not match Atherton's run, slotting into fourth behind Brendan Fairclough (Monster Energy Specialized).
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.
In the men's race Florian Vogel (Scott-Swisspower) took the second win of his career and Nathalie Schneitter (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol) won her first ever World Cup in the women's race.
Series leader Julien Absalon (Orbea) managed to hold onto the leader's jersey, but the women's race saw the fourth rider of the year don the white World Cup leader's jersey - Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol).
The men's race saw a split happen on the start loop, with Vogel and defending Champéry champion Burry Stander (Specialized) gaining ten seconds on his team mate, and World Champion, Nino Schurter, who was closely followed by European champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Rubena-Birell-Specialized) and World Cup leader Julien Absalon (Orbea).
Absalon bridged up to the two leaders and set a blistering pace, eventually pulling away in the lead by mid-race. However, Vogel was steadily making his way back, and when Absalon flatted in lap four, Vogel went into the lead. He was joined by Kulhavy, with Schurter chasing in third, leading Under-23 rider Mathias Flückiger (Trek World Racing) fourth and Absalon managing to hold onto fifth. Vogel dropped Kulhavy on the final climb to record the second World Cup victory of his career.
Absalon continues to hold onto the World Cup lead, with 710 points, but Schurter is now only 24 points back, and Kulhavy is only 50 points back.
The World Cup heads to Val di Sole, Italy this weekend for round 5 of the DH, XC and 4X series.
Full results at www.uci.ch