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Canada’s Brown 6th @ UCI DH WCup #2 Fort William as Atherton Wins and Minnaar Takes Historic Victory – Report and Photos

release by the UCI
Steve Smith  ©  Fraser Britton

June 08, 2015 (Fort William, Scotland) – Fort William once again proved to be one of the toughest races of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano. Rachel Atherton (Gbr) GT Factory recorded the 21st World Cup victory of her career, while Greg Minnaar (RSA) Santa Cruz Syndicate won the men’s title.

Greg Minnaar  ©  Fraser Britton
High winds and torrential rain on Saturday forced the cancellation of both training and qualifying runs for the day, pushing both Qualifying and the Final onto Sunday. Since Fort William is already considered one of the most physically demanding courses on the World Cup circuit, having to do two race speed runs on the same day pushed the riders to their limits. Add to that, the deep mud and ruts caused by the rain, and it is no wonder Rachel Atherton called this one of the hardest races of her career.

Tahnee Seagrave (Gbr) FMD Racing set the first sub-6 minute time. at 5 minutes, 39.643 seconds with 12 riders to go. Her time would prove strong enough for second overall, as rider after rider struggled and crashed.

Atherton, who only qualified fifth after crashing in qualifying, was clearly on a fast run; three seconds faster than Seagrave at the first intermediate timing point and seven seconds up by the finish. Atherton was the first rider to actually go faster than world champion Manon Carpenter’s (Gbr) fastest qualifying time.

Elite Women's podium (l-r) Carpenter 4th, Seagrave 2nd, Atherton 1st, Ragot 3rd, Curd 5th  ©  Michal Cerveny
Tracey Hannah (Aus) Polygon UR, the fourth fastest qualifier almost crashed and could only managed fourth. World Cup leader and defending Fort William champion Emmeline Ragot (Fra) MS Mondraker crashed hard in the woods to slot into third, leaving only Carpenter with a chance of beating Atherton.

Carpenter was sitting second by four seconds after Split 2, and decided to go for the big final jump that all the other women had ridden around. If it had worked, it might have made the difference, but Carpenter didn’t quite clear the gap, crashing spectacularly in front of the finish line crowd, and still managing to stagger across the line for fourth.

“That was one of the hardest races of my entire life,” said Atherton. “It was horrendous; the track was ridiculous in the woods, it was a mess. It was just survival, I was suffering. This morning after qualifying, I thought that I was just riding for damage limitation. I’ve got a trapped nerve in my neck and it’s making my arms really weak. I thought I just had to go out there and try my hardest; I crashed three times in qualifying, so I can’t believe it, that I won. I can’t believe that Manon tried that jump; the Brits killed it here.”

Casey Brown  ©  Fraser Britton

Casey Brown (Can) Bergamont Hayes Components Factory Team led the Canadian women, placing 6th.

For the men, the wind continued to dry out the upper, open section of the track and the sun came out, but the wooded middle part stayed extremely muddy and rut-filled. causing numerous crashes.

Aaron Gwin  ©  Michal Cerveny
Florent Payent (CK Racing) set the first sub-5 minute time, until an earlier rider, George Brannigan (Trek World Racing), received a rerun, to set the leading time of 4:55.760 . Brannigan’s time was still holding up as Round One winner Aaron Gwin (Specialized) started with 11 riders to go, but Gwin was clearly on a good run. Five seconds up by Split 1, Gwin was floating through sections where others struggled, and crossed the line with the first sub-4:50 time, and the first to beat Loic Bruni’s (Lapierre Gravity Republic) fastest qualifying time.

The next rider down the course, Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas (Esp) Giant Factory, slotted in just under three seconds back, while world champion Gee Atherton (Gbr) GT Factory, a two-time winner at Fort William, had a strong start but faded to finish three seconds back of Gwin.

Then South Africa’s Greg Minnaar, going for his 17th World Cup victory, came blazing through the second split half a second up on Gwin and padded his lead to finish 1.119 seconds ahead, with four riders left to race.

Defending champion Troy Brosnan (Aus) Specialized struggled and was not in contention and neither was Danny Hart (Gbr) MS Mondraker, third from last, or Michael Jones (Gbr) Chain Reaction Cycles / Paypal second from last. The only rider left was World Cup overall leader Loic Bruni (Fra) Lapierre Gravity Republic, but he could not manage better than seventh.

Elite Men's podium (l-r) Atherton 4th, Gwin 2nd, Minnaar 1st, Villegas 3rd, Blenkinsop 5th  ©  Fraser Britton

“This is a bit of a surprise really. I came in here feeling good after training hard the last few weeks.I knew I could podium after this mornings qualier but I didn’t expect this. I was actually shocked. I took a moment, and had a tear in my eye but I’m sure after a couple of beers it will sink in.  What really made the course hard was it drying up. It got greasy and the line was super narrow,” commented Minnaar.

“Can you believe that two of the most wining riders on a non-trade team?” referring to the fact that Santa Cruz Syndicate had their trade team status revoked due to uniforms from three different clothing sponsors not being identical.

“It was super tough out there, we’ve been riding in the wet all week,” added Minnaar, “so the conditions were completely different today, even between the Qualifying and the Final. It was drying up through the day so it was a completely different track and I didn’t know what to expect.”

Steve Smith (Can) Devinci Global Racing was the top Canadian in 25th, followed by Kirk McDowall (Can) in 43rd, Mark Wallace (Can) Devinci Global Racing 51st, Remi Gauvin (Can) 66th, Forrest Riesco (Can) 70th, and Jack Iles (Can) Norco Factory Racing 72nd.

Smith returned to racing after a foot and ankle surgery having spent the last 26 of 52 weeks on crutches. He wasn’t pleased with result.  “Race run felt horrendous. I haven’t had a run quite that bad in a long time. It was full of mistakes. I have to learn how to race again and not make mistake after mistake once they start. I felt less pressure with no practice, we all had to wing it. I had a fine quali and it was clean and wanted to step it up from there. Wanting to do that, I just rode over my head and screwed up everywhere,” Smith told Pedal

Atherton moves into the women’s lead in the overall standings, with 420 points to Ragot’s 405. Carpenter’s fourth moved her into third in the overall standings at 320 points. For the men, Gwin moves into the lead with 374 points, followed by Bruni at 350, and Minnaar moves up to third at 281 points.

Earlier in the day, Martin Maes (GT Factory) won the Junior men’s competition, with Laurie Greenland (Trek World racing) moving into the lead after finishing second for the second time in two races.

Canadians Magnus Manson (Can) Norco Factory Racing and Henry Fitzgerald (Can) finished 20th and 28th, respectively.

Qualifications, Final Results and More Photos here.

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