Fresh from their domination of Fort William Gee and Rachel Atherton have smashed their way to another double victory at Round 2 of the World Cup in Val di Sole.
Team mates Taylor Vernon and Marc Beaumont both crashed out on a blown out course that became a minefield of exposed roots and rocks that unseated many of the top riders.
Taylor was the first of the team to ride the Finals. He’d had a few minor spills in practise and qualifying so was taking it fairly steadily in the top section when he suffered what he’s described as “The biggest crash of his life.” Team Director Dan Brown said “Both Tay and Marc’s crashes came out of nowhere – this course has been changing every run, the main thing is that both of them are in one piece.”
In the women’s race pressure on Rachel was intense, she bore the triple expectation of winning here last year, last weekend’s double win with Gee at Fort William and a storming qualifying run which saw her put 6 seconds into the rest of the field. But Rachel kept her head and put in another searing run to beat her own qualifying time by a massive 12 seconds, leaving the field trailing in her wake once again. As in Fort William and qualifying her closest contender was Emmeline Ragot but even the fast Frenchwoman could not get to within 5 seconds of Rach, Florianne Pugin came in third, 7 seconds behind Ragot.
Rachel said “ I am so happy. That could be the most intense race I’ve ever ridden but now I’m even more in love with Val di Sole than ever and winning with Gee is Rad!”
By the time the Men’s Elite raced the track was even more treacherous. Forecast storms had not materialised – about an hour’s rain on Friday had done little to dampen down any of the dust and riders found their chosen lines sabotaged by new roots and rocks around almost every turn.
Even the very top riders struggled. 5th place qualifier Sam Hill had some issues on the top section which cost him a place on the podium, then Brook MacDonald crashed hard, finishing the race without a seat. Canadian Steve Smith put in a virtuoso run to post 3:13.186 and take the hotseat with only Aaron Gwin and Gee remaining. Gwin rode strongly showing a return to the form that made him 2012 champion but he was 3 seconds short of Smith – enough for 6th place. Gee was last man down and he put in what the commentators called a “perfect run” Aggressive from the start , he was faultless in the upper section going 0.5 seconds up at the first split. He continued with absolute precision and incredible power to cross the line at 3.12.185 and take the win by a good margin of 1.001.
Gee said “I’d seen Rach take the win so the pressure was on! I’m over the moon, everyone is flying at the moment so it’s incredibly hard to win, the track is so rough and beat up but the GT Fury took all the hits.”
Men’s Elite Results
1st Gee Atherton GT Factory Racing 3.12.185
2nd Steve Smith Devinci Global Racing 3.13.186
3rd Greg Minaar Santa Cruz Syndicate 3.13.435
Women’s Elite Results
1st Rachel Atherton GT Factory Racing 3.43.81
2nd Emmeline Ragot Lapierre Gravity Republic 3.49.045
3rd Florianne Pugin Gstadd Scott 3.55.86