Four rounds, four winners. This season’s racing has been the most mixed up for a long time, long may it continue! On such a bike park style track there was less to split the riders; in Fort William last week there was 10.4 seconds separating the top 10, in Leogang there was about half that – only 5.4 seconds. Let’s take a look at where those fractions of seconds were found and how Josh Bryceland got to his first ever World Cup win!
Yet again, the splits were in some really odd places. Of a 3m20s course, the first split was 2m20s into the course, almost two thirds down! Granted the most excitement happened in the bottom woods sections but it didn’t help to understand what really happened up in the top sections of the course. Regardless of where the splits were, Loic Bruni was on a charge all weekend. Winning qualifying and first at the first split almost 0.4 seconds ahead of Andrew Neethling who was also having a pretty good weekend up to the first split. Bryceland was still in touch at this point though – about 0.7 seconds back in 4th spot. Last week’s winner Troy Brosnan was back in 10th over 1.5 seconds back and Sam Hill gave himself a lot to do on the final minute of the track – 3.3 seconds back in 18th place.
Although the last two sectors were only 30 seconds each, the tight time gaps at split 1 meant that there was still all to play for – any mistake would be punished with a drop down the standings, yet there wasn’t much scope for making up time with only a minute left of the course. The biggest winners on Sector 2 were Sam Hill and Conor Fearon who were one and two on the sector. Fearon went from 11th to 5th overall at split 2 and Hill recovered from 18th to get up to 12th at split 2. After a slow start, 34th at split 1, Mike Jones also had a great sector 2, going 4th fastest only 0.2 seconds back.
The biggest losers at the top were Andrew Neethling and Gee Atherton. Neethling could only go 38th fastest, 2.170 seconds back, dropping him from 2nd to 10th overall. Atherton also had a few issues in the woods that put him 26th fastest, 1.913 seconds behind Hill and dropping him down from 6th to 11th overall.
In the overall placings, Bruni maintained his lead. Brycleand pulled back about 0.2 seconds, Neethling had dropped back into the pack and Brook Macdonald dropped another tenth of a second. Less than a second separated Macdonald, Minnaar, Brycleand and Bruni at this point but it was Bruni’s to lose with only 30 seconds of racing to go…
Sadly for Bruni he came a little too hot out of the ‘Stairs of Contrast’(???) and washed out in the gravel to hand Bryceland the win. With times this tight though, he still had to do the work to take the win and he did it in style with the fastest bottom sector. Troy Brosnan was a gnats whisker behind in second place which, along with 10th and 8th on Sectors 1 & 2, put him into third overall but look at the gaps between Macdonald, Minnaar and Brosnan! Just 25 hundreths of a second separated the three of them. To put this in context, at these speeds on a 2.49km track, that is roughly half a (26inch) wheel between 2nd and 4th place. Say what you like about this track but it made for tight racing! You’ve also got to wonder if Troy Brosnan will come to regret the 9 thousandths of a second (or about 11cms) between him and an extra 20 points in the overall come the end of the season…
Overall – no room for error
Given the tight times, there were some big differences between placings across the three sectors. Brook Macdonald took 4th place with 3rd, 7th and 19th sector placings for example. Whilst he was 19th in the 3rd Sector, he only gave away just over a second to Bryceland here and had enough in the bank to hold on to a podium position. A few positions in the lower half of the top 10 stand out as patchy performances such has Sam Hill, Conor Fearon and Andrew Neethling who all had a 1st or 2nd place sector time but also placings in the 30s and 40s in the case of Neethling and Fearon.
So where are we in the overall standings after four rounds? Here’s the race for points over the four rounds so far. After a strong start, Gwin’s puncture at the weekend has pushed him back into second place as his team mate Brosnan has shown good consistency so far. 5th at PMB, 9th at Cairns then the win in Fort William and 3rd place in Leogang. Last year Steve Smith was never lower than 4th all year and still had to go to the wire to win the title in the last race.
This year the field seems wide open with no one able to dominate fully yet. Certainly the top 5 is wide open with three races to go. Here’s looking forward to a second half of the season that’s as exciting as the first!