Read it and weep…
Press Release: June 10, 2007
23 year old Matti Lehikoinen (FIN) of Team G Cross Honda won his 2nd World Cup race of his career, in a rain marred event in the town of Champery in the Alps of Switzerland. The small ski resort was hosting the World Cup circuit for the first time, and the organisers presented the top riders in the world with the most extreme course the series has ever ridden. With a steepness that made walking the course a dangerous affair, the daily afternoon thunder showers also made for one of the toughest races in recent history
The afternoon showers poured into the venue regularly around 4 o’clock every day, so the team soon turned its attention to making a strategy for race day that would cover both ends of the start list, an each way bet in difficult weather conditions.
During training earlier in the week, the team’s young gun Brendan Fairclough impressed everyone on course with his stylish riding on the cliffs of Champery. Riding with a broken hand, but in a lot more comfort than at round 1 in Vigo, “Brendog” was looking for a strong qualifying run. Greg’s luck turned sour when he was walking the course after training on Friday and fell down a steep section of track dislocating his left shoulder. Greg managed after two attempts to get his shoulder back into place himself, but was forced to miss Saturday training as the swelling in his shoulder subsided. Matti had trouble free training sessions despite a few departures from the course, and elected, like Greg, to run Crank Brothers 5050 flat pedals for the tight and twisty track that had very little pedalling.
In the semi finals Greg’s aim was to chase the 50 points for a win, while team management directed Matti to stop on course and run a slower time with the aim of starting earlier in the day, around 4pm. Brendan’s goal was to ride within his limits and safely make it through to the final 80. In fact, Brendan’s ride was so strong, he actually qualified fastest of the team on a semi wet course that had been dumped on by early morning showers, finishing an impressive 6th, his first World Cup top 10 for Honda. Greg was unlucky and crashed twice chasing a fast time, and rolled in well outside the top 80, but under the UCI rules, as a top 20 ranked rider he was given a place in the finals. Matti rode to plan and finished mid field exactly, position 40.
The finals started and other top riders came down in the dry, including Steve Peat (GBR) who quickly took the hotseat and prayed for rain. But his stay in the hotseat was no more than 20 minutes as Matti hit the course just as the rain started. The bottom section of the track was getting slick, but not enough to stop the charging Finn who bumped Peat from the hotseat and settled in for the rest of the race. It wasn’t long before the rain started to pour down turning the race into a survival course. Greg crashed twice in the slippery conditions, losing more than 20 seconds in one fall as his bike got entangled in the safety fencing.
Brendan rode superbly in the slippery conditions and recorded a great time, despite having a crash early on. In fact, all top riders crashed in the drenching conditions. The sheer steepness of the track, and the rain, made the course near unrideable in sections. The last rider to come done was World Champ Sam Hill (AUS) and despite his incredible qualifying time, no-one expected him to beat Matti as the conditions were so extreme. Amazingly he came within 1.63secs of taking the win and without a doubt showed why he is World Champion, and on these style of courses, he’s simply amazing to watch.
Matti Lehikoinen (1st Place)
“I’m so happy for the team that we came out on top today. This is such a crazy course and the weather was so tough to pick, but the tactics worked well. I knew that if I could get down the hill in the dry, I could run a fast time, and my race time is still the 2nd fastest of the whole week here, so I’m happy about that. Sam’s run was amazing and I thought he was going to get me until the last corner. To be sitting third overall now is a great feeling going to Mont-Sainte-Anne, a course I really love.”
Brendan Fairclough (40th Place)
“I’m pretty gutted actually. I really felt great on this course and felt I had a shot at the podium; this is my kind of track. Then the rain just messed all that up. It’s good to be back though, I really feel good to be racing again after my small break, and I’ve got a new bike which feels incredible, it has made so much difference to my confidence. I know I have the form to do well in the next two races and can’t wait for a race without rain falling half way through.”
Greg Minnaar (74th Place)
“Not a good day at all for me. Injuring my shoulder walking the course was such a freak accident and then to have crashes in the semi, not good at all. In the final, even though the rain hit, I started off really well, felt good on the bike and was getting through the corners cleanly, but then I fell where Sam (Hill) also fell. My hands were clean but when I got back on the bike, there was mud all over the handlebars and from there you just can’t hang on anymore. I just had no chance of keeping the bike up after that. I’m super happy for Matti though, it was a smart strategy that paid off big time for him and the team.”
Team Director Martin Whiteley
“Matti’s win today is such a great boost for the team. He rode to strategy brilliantly and as we all know, he is always capable of winning, but today he rode very smartly. Brendan is showing signs of why we hired him in the first place and we can’t wait for him to demonstrate his real potential in a race unaffected by the weather. We all feel very disappointed for Greg. He works so hard to be at his best for these events and then to have the bizarre accident walking the course, followed by bad weather in his run; it can be a cruel sport. He’s still sitting in 7th overall and in touch with the top guys, so with three races to go, there are still chances. We are obviously delighted to be leading the Team Championship.”