Saturday in Lenzerheide will be remembered as the day that Danny Hart finally won a World Cup race. He has been close many times before but on a scorching day on a Swiss mountainside it all finally came together.
Race photos will be uploaded as soon as we have them!
Before we go any further down the Danny Hart route we need to also mention the stellar performances by Finn Iles in the Junior Men and Rachel Atherton in the women’s. Atherton has now extended her consecutive winning streak to 11 straight wins… but more on that later.
Switzerland has been good to Danny Hart. He won the World Championships in Champery back in 2011 but since then he has been unable to really take the next step to winning a World Cup (many would say that he has done it the right way around, the World Champs being much harder to win). Danny has been around the Dirt world from the very beginning, his career has been a long one, but we need to remember that he’s only 24! What that means is that he still has many racing years ahead of him. So far in 2016 he has shown consistency and maturity, and his results have reflected this. Thirds in Lourdes and Fort William, a fourth in Leogang, with the only real blip being his 11th in Cairns. Consistent podium finishes mean good points in the overall.
We’ve talked about the track many times over the last few days in our reports, so we’re not going into it again. What I will say though is that there was some overnight rain (not much) but it was enough to dampen the track down for the early morning practice sessions. This meant nothing, because by the time the final race runs came around the track was bone dry. But this was good. It meant that the track was a level playing field (if you get what I mean!). Conditions stayed the same for everyone. It was as fair a race as you are ever going to get.
Things first started to get interesting when Ruaridh Cunningham came down and put in a time that would stick for a long time. He said that he messed up the very first corner, and that had spurred him to push on.
Greg Williamson came close with a good split one, but he crashed out over a berm, losing a lot of time and much valued points in the overall. Vergier slid around a bit on some interesting lines but it was to be Brendan Fairclough who would eventually displace Cunningham (Ruaridh would score a career best ninth place at the end of the day), perfectly backsiding the last jump but slightly dabbing on the last grass corner.
He wouldn’t stay there long as current series leader Aaron Gwin was next down. He put almost five seconds into Fairclough’s time with a 3.05. That was kind of expected, but it still came as a shock. Watching him as he raced down the course it was ‘seat of your pants’ stuff. He was so committed, seemingly taking his life in his hands on many occasions, risking it all in places! Gwin would stay there until the death.
Rider after rider came down, but none of them were really getting close. Many of them were on great runs, but Gwin held firm. Luca Shaw dropped into second for a while, then (to a cacophony of noise) Remi Thirion took his spot (he would eventually ended up in fourth with Shaw in seventh). Connor Fearon was down at split 1, but clawed some time back, but he was still off Gwin’s time. A great result though for the Australian as he finished up on the podium in fifth. MacDonald (25th), Brayton (12th), Brosnan (6th), Greenland (13th) and Jones (29th, after a big crash a mashed ankle, and a mechanical in his run) couldn’t get near.
Then Greg Minnaar; he won here last time remember, but he was marginally down at split 1, then manoeuvring positions around on the other splits. He was close, but not close enough. He came down in second, which would eventually become third.
Then Hart… ohhh Danny Boy (c’mon, we had to!). We had mentioned the fact in the previous days’ reports that he had immediately appeared to be comfortable and relaxed on the track. In the early practice sessions he just looked calm and at ease with it all… he was just flowing down. As everyone watched the big screen in the finish arena you could see that he was looking good. It was not sloppy, just good on the edge riding. At split 1 he was down by a fraction, not the end of the world, but he didn’t really want that gap to get bigger… but it did. At split 2 he was further back in third, the same at split 3.#
I don’t mind admitting that I thought he’d lost it. Gwin is such a powerful and compact rider, one who carries momentum and speed so well, that this gap of almost a second was too much to make back in around 25 seconds of track… if anything I had expected the time gap to grow a little. But something weird happened. The crowd was going ballistic as Danny crossed the line a mere 0.096 of a second faster than Aaron Gwin. This was the stuff of dreams, of fairy tales. The whole place just went mental. Bike above his head, cameramen everywhere and in the middle of it all a bloke from Redcar who had just won his first World Cup. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
This was such a good result, especially considering that nobody fell off (really) and that Gwin and Minnaar are on their game. Was it the fact that Hart kept his feet up on the second to last fast grassy corner where the others had wavered a little that gave him the win? Maybe. At the end of the day everyone was happy to see Danny Hart climb onto the top step of the podium and claim the prize that he and his family, friends and close team have worked so hard for over so many years. If only his mum and dad had been there to see it.
Going back a few hours to the start of the day’s racing we had seen Finn Iles further cement his grip on the overall lead in the Junior’s race with a clear victory. At the finish line he was as cool as a cucumber. After he saw that he had won by 2.636 seconds he took his helmet off, and I swear that there was not a bead of sweat on him! This guy is the real deal, he is truly a star in the making (just for the record, he would have finished in 29th position in the senior race with his time).
Let’s not forget the others though. Elliot Heap had the race of his life and his best ever result in second, and Gaetan Vige scored more important points for the overall in third.
There was barely time to catch your breath before the women’s race was underway, and it was going to be a hard one to call. Rachel Atherton would be the bookies favourite but she hadn’t seemed that happy on the course all week. On the other hand Tahnee Seagrave was fired up and looking super good… and then there was Myriam Nicole. Don’t forget that she has broken both of her collarbones (May 2015 and March 2016) and she has missed out on a lot of races (her last world class event was the World Championships in Vallnord last year). She was unsure of her speed but she too was looking very good.
Manon Carpenter didn’t really look ‘on it’. Her performance was solid (4th). Tracey Hannah was next but she crashed out; her splits tell us that she was looking to finish around third or fourth if she had stayed on. Next was Nicole. Nervous, anxious even, she needn’t have worried. She held it all together, didn’t make any silly mistakes and went straight into the hot seat. She’d barely had time to get comfy and Rachel Atherton came into view. She had put the hammer down and posted the fastest times at all four splits, finishing almost six seconds ahead of Nicole.
Then Tahnee. She was so desperate for this win (her first at World Cup level), and she was right there. Down at split one by just a fraction, the same at split 2, but by the time split 3 came up she was almost two seconds back from Atherton’s time. It was a big ask. Split 4 and she was still almost two seconds back. It was weird because she looked to be hauling; neat and tidy but definitely not holding back. Crossing the line she was 0.7 sec back and in second place. Both she and Rachel had missed the higher line just after ‘The Plunge’, maybe that could have made the difference? We will never know.
Relief for Atherton (she is now on 11 consecutive World Cup wins), but devastation for Tahnee. You could see it in her eyes that she thought this was the one, this was the time for her to beat Rachel. It was not to be. With Myriam Nicole now back in the mix, a few other riders there or thereabouts, and of course the battle between Rachel and Tahnee, the series looks set to get interesting.
After a long day in the sun the permutations for the overall can wait for another day… Thank you Lenzerheide, we loved it.