With much of the attention focussed on the mini French drama that appeared to be moving into its second season, eyes have been slightly diverted from some equally engaging but less documented events of late. Loic Bruni having left us wanting more after a four rounds of what was a largely hit and miss 2015 season – winning qualification, losing the final of many big time events – it seemed the new 2016 series was to be more of the same.
Thankfully that has now passed, the reigning world champion now a World Cup winner to add to the many, many legendary French racers. After the Australian thriller, sadly Bruni has gone down with an injury, but still, France seems to be on the up generally.
For Britain its all been a bit of a soap opera of late. Cairns went as far as to get British alarm bells ringing with only one Brit in the top ten, Greg Williamson. But with six Brits in the top twenty in the southern hemisphere race and seven over in the Lourdes opener it’s hardly a case for concern. Such strength in depth, so many potential podium candidates, so much history.
Yes, history, legacy. Britain should be proud, and so should Peaty, not just in the markers he has put down but in those he has nurtured and led to success – Marc Beaumont, Josh Bryceland and (almost) Brendan Fairclough being notables. It was never always this way. From Snoqualmie ‘98 to Les Deux Alpes 2004 it wasn’t so much a case of “All the Lads” but “The Lad” as Peaty was the only British rider taking part at world podium presentations.
Then in 2005, suddenly it was a case of five Brits – Peaty, Dan and Gee Atherton, Marc Beaumont and Brendan Fairclough taking huge steps which has since rarely diminished even though it was a Brit phase that produced only fifteen percent of available podium spaces at the time, compared to the Aussies who commanded almost forty percent. This was a statistic the GB riders trounced the following season.
During this time, ten years ago, the Peat, Atherton, Beaumont, Fairclough era was in full swing. In 2006 British riders took nearly half of the available podium places, a number which they have never equalled. Indeed for the rest of that decade it was never lower than 30 per cent. Hart and Bryceland were taking over the places of Fairclough and Beaumont, and then just as it appeared GB would take the 2013 series with Gee gaining two firsts and two seconds in the opening four rounds, the GT rider went the wrong side of a root and… GB slumped to lower than a quarter of podium places for the first time in ages.
We’ve become used to seeing the result sheet stacked with British talent and with Bryceland taking the title in 2014 all is good on home soil. Yet even with five GB riders podiuming in 2015, the visits were dropping. Cause for concern?
“For over a decade Gee has been the anchor of British downhill”
There seems no reason to get carried away with Britain’s apparent dip in form at podium level lately for it has been unequivocally the strongest country at world level for the past decade. So yes we do have consistency in that respect. It’s not since 2005 that the Brits have been beaten in numbers – the halcyon days of Kovarik, Rennie, Hill, Hannah, Graves for Australia and the strong French in Gracia, Barel and Pascal. For a decade Britain has commanded the podium places.
The question is this though. If once all of Britain’s hopes hung on one Sheffield man, and that we have one of the most consistent World Cup racers ever in Gee Atherton, and that there is now great strength in top twenty positions, who are the potentials to take over from Atherton and Peaty? Who will be the new British male torchbearer to join the country’s most successful ever downhill racer Rachel Atherton?
It’s now a decade since the downhill community thought Gee would take over from Peaty, which he did, and since when he and his family have put so much into the sport of downhill as well as setting some incredible records the likes of which will probably never be equalled. But who will succeed Gee as he heads into his thirties? It seems nobody is really showing any kind of consistency to do so. For over a decade Gee has been the anchor of British downhill, a national downhill treasure.
It’s true that Britain has the strength to gridlock the world top twenty. In 2016 the names Bryceland, Hart, Fairclough, Jones, Simmonds, Dale, Williamson, Smith, Kerr, Heath, Cunningham, Greenland are all top twenty standard. But more than this they are all (with the exception of reigning World junior Champion Greenland) proven top ten material. But as ever it’s a question of consistency, for Atherton has more podiums than the rest of those British names combined by a country mile.
And so it’s against such a fact that the bigger question of who should Britain pin their hopes of future senior wins and titles given the apparent lack of undeviating firepower – something which Gee proved he has by the cartload? Brycleand has proven he has the talent, Hart at 25 needs to get a move on if he is ever to accomplish his potential – maybe those two riders having given Britain a World Cup and World Championship title each has arguably left us wanting more. In them a successor to Atherton we might not have, maybe in Greenland or Matt Walker we do.
With on average eight countries now featuring on men’s podiums Britain is not alone. For each of the strong countries also have proven stars, which it could be argued still have so much yet to prove and to achieve. France has Bruni, Australia has Brosnan. Thirion/Vergier, Fearon/Lucas their lieutenants respectively. With Richie Rude having decided on the road to enduro world domination Gwin has been left to….well dominate. If you think about it USA, for its lack of depth has been an ocean of gold.
It appears that world downhill has passed into a new era, where, in recent years the only thing proven is Gwin. That the era of Hill, Atherton, Minnaar is fading and where a new world order is being beaten into place, the shape of which is still slightly unknown.
Apart from Atherton it seems there is a consistency issue with Britain’s downhill racers. Disguising this theory and providing a good counter argument is that Britain has had three World Cup champions in the past decade. France hasn’t won a men’s world cup series since the turn of the century, which also kind of puts it all into perspective.
Let’s hope Gee regains the ingredients to add some spice to the Fort William party which is going to be massive, because on results at World Cup level he and Peaty for the last eighteen years have not just been slices of British pie, they pretty much ARE the pie. It’s going to be a feast.
Total World Cup Podiums: 50
Highest World Cup result: 7 Wins – 1st Schladming 04, Andorra 08, Fort Wiliam/Champery/Windham 10, Fort William/Val Do Sole 13
Titles: World Champion 2008, 2014
Total World Cup Podiums: 11
Highest World Cup result: 3 Wins – 1st Leogang/Windham 14, Mt St Anne 15
Titles: World Junior Champion 2008, World Cup Champion 2014
Total World Cup Podiums: 9
Highest World Cup result: 2 Wins – 1st Vigo 2007/ 1St Val Di Sole 2010
Total World Cup Podiums: 11
Highest World Cup result: 2nd Fort William/Val di Sole 2011, 2nd Fort William 2012, 2nd Hafjell 2013
Titles: World Champion 2011
Total World Cup Podiums: 6
Highest World Cup result: 3rd Pila 05
Total World Cup Podiums: 1
Highest World Cup result: 3rd Lourdes 2015
Titles: Junior World Cup Champion, Bronze Junior Worlds
Total World Cup Podiums: 1
Highest World Cup result: 2nd Meribel 2014
Total World Cup Podiums: 1
Highest World Cup result: 5th Lourdes 2015
Highest World Cup result: 6th Cairns 2016
Highest World Cup result; 7th Fort William 2012
Titles: 2015 British Downhill Champion
Highest World Cup result: 9th Hafjell 2013
Highest World Cup result: 9th Val di Sole/Windham 2015
Highest World Cup result:
Titles: Junior World Champion/Junior World Cup Champion 2015
Highest World Cup result; 10th Champery 2010
Titles: 2007 Junior World Champion
Steve Peat – Get The F**** Beers In