Today in South Africa the Pietermaritzburg track was bathed in glorious sunshine as the women took their places at the top of the tough, slippery course.
Australia’s Tracy Hannah took an early lead with a good time of 4.40.438, she held on to the hotseat through the next ten riders as nobody else got close. In the top 6 Myriam Nicole rode a great technical top section but wasn’t fast enough to podium, 15 seconds behind Hannah. Floriane Pugin was 7 seconds off the pace then Morganne Charre the current World Champion was on course. Charre was 3rd at split 1 but dropped off in the mid-section to finish 6th. Everybody agreed that once the tough technical top section was done the key to this track was to have the strength to smash the pedally mid-section – and to keep the momentum through a series of big jumps. Manon Carpenter has both strength and technical ability in spades so expectation was high but she crashed in the top section which left her 34 seconds back at split 1.
Only Emmeline Ragot and Rachel were left on the mountain. Ragot gave 110% in a brave ride that saw her destroy Hannah’s time by almost 4 seconds but her stay in the hotseat was to be brief as Rachel tore down the hill. Already 1.73 seconds up at split 1 she powered through the brutal mid-section to clock 8.1 seconds clear at split 2, crossing the line at 4.28.03 – 12.395 seconds up on Hannah and 8.632 seconds up on Ragot.
Rachel said “It hasn’t sunk in yet, I’m exhausted, I was wondering if I’d ever win this World Championships again but I so wanted those stripes. In the middle section the crowd were roaring and I was just saying to myself, dig, dig, dig. So I dug!”
By the time the men raced the course was very different to how it had ridden in practise, extremely slick and blown out with plenty of crashes to upset the expected order. Australia’s Jared Graves set a fantastic time early on (4.01.391) and remained in the hotseat through almost the next 50 riders. Marc Beaumont was one of those riders but couldn’t get into contention finishing 11.7 seconds back from Graves. With only 6 riders left on course Jared’s countryman Mick Hannah put in an immaculate run to smash his time by an incredible 2.937 seconds. Loic Bruni couldn’t touch the leaders and next up Sam Hill suffered a nasty crash as he came into the final section leaving only Greg Minaar, Steve Smith and Gee on track.
Greg Minaar, the local favourite and reigning World Champion rode a great top section, a second up at split one but was 0.8 down by split 2. Tension was huge and the crowd went wild as Greg pedalled for his very life, lifted by the ecstatic onlookers to cross the line 0.3 seconds ahead of Mick. Steve Smith crashed at turn 1 then only Gee was left on the mountain. He put in a solid run but couldn’t get into contention with the leaders, down 1.5 at split one and 3.5 at split 2 to cross the line in 7th place.
Gee said “Greg, Mick and Jared rode incredible races today. Congratulations to them. Disappointed today but I’m stoked for Rach and already looking forward to the next World Cups.”
The GT Factory Racing team now head into the final two rounds of the World Series with Rachel hoping to retain the title she won in 2008 and 2012 while Gee chases the tile he last won in 2010.
1st Rachel Atherton GB 4.28.043
2 Emmeline Ragot Fr 4.36.675 +8.632
3 Tracy Hannah Aus 4.40.438 +12.395
4 Jill Kintner USA 4.41.468 +13425
5 Caroline Buchanan Aus 4.41.655 +13.612
1 Greg Minaar RSA 3.58.058
2 Mick Hannah Aus 3.58.454 +0.396
3 Jared Graves Aus 4.01.391 +3.33
4 Sam Blenkinsop NZ 4.01.804 +3.746
5 Matt Simmonds GB 4.01.997 + 3.939