2006 World Cup Rounds 4 & 5

Pegging up a pair of riding socks worn wafer thin on the heel and still ripe from the weekend (even after a good thrashing in the clothes mixer) started me wondering about the possible winners. The party would still be going on in Brazil and someone would be stood around the bar with a pocketful of points. Quite likely it would be someone that is no stranger to the odd World Cup victory celebration. There could after all be roughly six people capable of winning a World Cup and another twenty equally adept at talking about the idea of mixing it with a dozen characters who have the incredible ability to get within a few seconds of one another over four and a half minutes, as happened in the notorious Mt St Anne event the week previously.

That had been Kovarik’s victory, his first for a while, but the Intense M3’s first ever mens World Cup win. It’ll have been carried out with nothing less than the earth shuddering brute force that the Australian deals in. Three tenths of a second prevented Minnaar from wining his first full house of the year, no doubt had he double knotted his shoes or dropped his peak a touch and that win would have been his. Marc Beaumont meanwhile made a massive statement by beating his mentor, Peaty, into fourth.

Brazil then. England had lost out to Portugal in the football, and Steve would be pressing on a touch for his country to make amends for this (being in Brazil) and in search of the win that would take him ahead of his great nemesis, the never to be forgotten, Nicolas Vouilloz in terms of World Cup wins, and stretch his lead further in an attempt to gain series win number three that would leave him two short of the Frenchman. Big ask but Peaty is still only 32.

Steve’s team mate, the hard lined Australian Nathan Rennie, has been a little shy of the top step of the podium of late, although he has not been out of the top three come seasons end for the past three years. With Peaty taking Santa Cruz’s first world cup win in the pedally Willingen and Kovarik wrestling the M3 down Mt St Anne, Nathan will be keen to get VPP victory number three in a row for these bikes. Not that axle paths make a blind bit of difference to these guys, who can react quicker than any modern shock absorber can. It would be great to see Rennie take the win in Schladming. His ex team mate Sam Hill, after a mediocre Vigo but fantastic Fort William, had gone all flaky in the German man made thriller but returned back into contention when the terrain got rough again in Canada. Nothing ever seems to rattle Hill, and his riding is every bit like his character. His body, like his head, it never moves unless it needs too.

Minnaar has had an upside down year from the moment he had to rush to the semi final in Vigo. In true champion form though, he has steered the big red machine (even though it’s chrome) back into calmer waters and had set sail for the tropics knowing that the World title was still within reach.

Which leaves Hannah, Barel and Gracia of the people who could have been sat around the Brazilian beach side bar fielding an onslaught of short drinks. Hmmm. Fabien had gone missing even before getting to Canada and an arm injury has put an end to his campaign. He’ll be seeking a hatrick of World Champions titles instead on the bike that he has painstakingly developed with Paul Walton his mechanic to the force it is. Few doubt that Fabien is quite possibly the fastest rider at the moment, it’s just that he hasn’t had the bounce of the track again this year. Neither has Cedric Gracia, who so nearly wrapped it up in Fort William, but meanwhile he is where he has been for the past four years and must surely be getting impatient for a swig on the big bottle of bubbly. Hannah, who after six years of trying, got to do the big grin on the top step in Vigo but had lost power in Germany and seemed to be firing on three cylinders, although with a touch of tuning he could yet light up things in New Zealand. He is one of the few to ride an entirely production bike.

Someone was missing. Oh yes of course Gee, well he’d bagged one before in Schladming two years ago and has settled into the kind of consistency that has won the 21 year old Animal Giant rider several British Championships. What was it he said? “I needed to stop loose-cannoning.”

So…that it would be one of these to win in Brazil seemed to be good money well spent, unless it rained of course but even then Hill has proved that the weather cannot put out someone on fire. It’s been a strange season, five races, and five winners all on different bikes, the current top ten is even split fifty-fifty.

Between the northern and southern hemispheres. An eventful year with the entire top ten having some kind of hard luck tale gained either on the slopes of Europe and America or the high seas between Plymouth and Santander. But that’s another story. What’s been learned since Hannah stole the moment in Spain and Hill saved some energy to sneak Fort William is that pedalling still matters – as Peaty proved by riding around the jumps and pedalling his tits off to take the points in Germany. Kovarik meanwhile muscled in on Mt St Anne exemplifying perfectly the strong–arm approach. And Brazil? Well it comes back to matters of a more technical matter. It might well be that it doesn’t matter what type of bike they ride but would Minnaar, after pucturing then crashing, be higher up than he currently is should he have run tubed tyres in Brazil? Or as someone put it to me, would Lehikoinen have beaten Peaty by such a narrow margin to take his first ever World Cup?

What if he’d back combed his hair or worn plastic gloves? In the end it all comes back to what is encased within those full face lids. In Matti Lehikoinen’s case it is something even more durable than the outer. It is a remarkable tale of self–belief and confidence. Unmoved in his focus and quest for this win since he begun racing, it is an example of nothing less than total determination and executed in a straight forward simple manner. No diversionary tales, not yet anyway, just believing it. That now brings the list of Schladming possibles to seven…or maybe eight?

Women’s World Cup

Three Frenchwomen and three British have been terrorising the world cup podiums so far. Ever since Vanessa Quin and Scarlet Hagan, the great southern hemisphere All Black hopefuls, crashed out of the season with bad injuries at round one, a resident from somewhere between Bolton and Monaco has taken each of the first five rounds, and the Europeans have also filled nearly every podium placing. It’s now been several years since an American has won a women’s downhill race when they once seemed to be so dominant, well vocally at least. Marla Streb taking her Santa Cruz to victory in Kaprun late 2003 being the last.
Tracy Moseley started almost faultlessly by taking the first three and is the only woman to have won both a semi final and a final on the same day this season, that being Fort William. Jonnier has kept in touch however, and even though Tracy is over a hundred points ahead of the Iron Horse rider, it means there is still pressure on Moseley to perform at Schladming. Which of course she is now used to.

Gros and Ragot are former Junior World champions hammering well, but apart from Ragot’s storming Willingen semi, they have not yet quite overcome that final hurdle this year and got the edge displayed by last seasons junior World Champion Rachel Atherton, who opened her first big world cup bottle in Brazil.

And so to Schladming, with pressure on Moseley and Jonnier not to make any big mistakes, it might be an opportunity for another rider to steal the show. It could be British, Helen Gaskell has done the podium business well but needs to step it up, and hell, even Fionn Griffiths could make a surprise visit.

Pegging up a pair of riding socks worn wafer thin on the heel and still ripe from the weekend (even after a good thrashing in the clothes mixer) started me wondering about the possible winners. The party would still be going on in Brazil and someone would be stood around the bar with a pocketful of points.

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