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Historic Junior Men’s Title for Canada’s Iles as Atherton and Gwinn Defend DH World Cup Crowns in Andorra

by Fraser Britton
Finnley Iles  ©  Michal Cerveny
September 04, 2016 (Vallnord, Andorra) – With overall titles on the line, the final round #7 of the 2016 UCI Downhill World Cup in Vallnord, Andorra saw an entire season come down to the wire. Canada’s Finnley Iles (Specialized Racing) captured the Junior Men’s overall title for a historic Canadian victory, while the UK’s Rachel Atherton (Trek Factory) made history as well delivering a perfect score, winning all seven rounds in the Elite women’s series, en route to defending her title.

Rachel Atherton  ©  Fraser Britton

In the Elite Men’s contest Danny Hart (Gbr) MS Mondraker took home his 3rd win of the season as Aaron Gwin (USA) The YT Mob) also defend his overall title, but a dramatic finish was not in the cards due to an unfortunately timed thunderstorm.

Aaron Gwin  ©  Fraser Britton

Easily the steepest and most technical track of the year, the race in Andorra is always an exciting one. Past years have seen monsoon conditions, hail and howling winds. This year we were treated to temperatures in the low 30s, with blazing sun and a track that was baked dry. With no moisture to hold it together, it started to fall apart during the first day’s practice, with huge holes and ruts turning an already difficult track into one that challenged the best in the world.

Iles  ©  Michal Cerveny

Canada’s Isles set the stage with a top qualifying run but finished second to Gaetan Vige (Fra) Commencal / Vallnord who edged out the Canuck for the final World Cup win. Isles held onto the series lead and take home his first UCI World Cup overall title. The young B.C. phenom has one more year as a junior rider so expectations are high.

Magnus Manson was just off the podium in 4th at the final round while Henry Fitzgerald (Can) Steve Peat Syndicate / Uberbike Global was 8th putting three Canadians in the top 10. Manson ended up 9th overall and Fitzgerald was 13th.

Rachel Atherton  ©  Michal Cerveny
Women's podium  ©  Michal Cerveny
Atherton continued her domination taking the final World Cup after qualifying 3rd due to a sore back as Myriam Nicole (Fra) Commencal / Vallnord laid down the fastest run. But in the final Atherton was unstoppable completing a perfect season and going 7-for-7 – her streak now stands at 13 World Cup consecutive wins.

Miranda Miller  ©  Michal Cerveny
Canada’s Miranda Miller finished 8th in the finale which moved her up to 10th in the overall. Fellow Canuck Georgia Astle was 10th on the day and 17th overall while Vaea Verbeeck (Can) Rocky Mountain was 19th at the final race to secure 19th in the final standings.

Danny Hart  ©  Michal Cerveny

For the USA’s Gwin, who had the overall title almost clinched going into this round, there was a bit of drama still to play out – if he failed to secure one point by finishing the final round, and Hart won the UK rider could have relegated Gwin to second place. If Gwin took the win, Troy Brosnan (Aus) Specialized Racing was in a position to steal second place from Hart with a win. Brosnan qualified first by a tenth of a second margin, with Hart well back in the top 10.

Men's podium  ©  Fraser Britton

Just as local hero Remi Thirion (Fra) Commencal / Vallnord was about to drop down the mountain, the skies opened up at the top making the upper root sections incredibly treacherous. With Hart firmly in the hot seat, no one was able to eclipse his time. Gwin elected to play it safe and cruise down finishing 55th. Brosnan hung on for dear life in the heaviest of the rain, once again securing third in the overall standings with a 20th-place finish.

Gwin at the finish  ©  Michal Cerveny
Gwin was happy with another series win with a new bike and new team. “Another crazy weekend of racing here in Andorra! I was really hoping to end my World Cup season with a win but unfortunately the weather just wasn’t on my side today. After dropping into my race run and feeling out the conditions, it was obvious to me that the risk required to ride fast just wasn’t worth it.

Men's overall series podium  ©  Michal Cerveny

“It was weird not racing for the win but I know it was the wise decision to play it safe, wrap up the title, and stay healthy for the World Championships next week,” concluded Gwin.

Mark Wallace  ©  Fraser Britton

Canada’s Mark Wallace finished 33rd after a crash mid-race while Canadian DH Champion Kirk McDowall was 50th. In the final standings Wallace was 22nd, Forrest Riesco was 78th and McDowall was 108th. Teams now pack up their trucks and make a 14-hr trek to Val Di Sole, Italy for this year’s UCI DH World Championships.

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