Two days of practice under bluebird skies veiled the onslaught that Snowdonia would deliver over the Hardline race weekend. Torrential rain hampered Friday's training and both weather and track colluded to claim victims from the off. Reece Wilson was first to suffer, an otherwise breakout season marred by a separated shoulder after nosing a blind hip and going OTB.
Last year's winner, Craig Evans, along with Fairclough and Brayton were all struck down by the conditions and failed to make it through to the final ten. Josh Bryceland, 8th place qualifier, elected to call it a day and conceded his spot to Flo Payet. By Saturday afternoon the field had been halved, whittled down to the select few destined to do battle with the beast at race pace.
The first man down in anger was the aforementioned Payet. While the rain that punctuated qualifying had relented, in its place was speed crippling mud and crosswinds, culminating in one of the most physically demanding Hardline tracks we've seen. Languid and composed, Flo justified his place in the finals and set the pace early with a 3:26:48.
"By Split 2 he'd sliced the deficit to just 0.5 seconds and was flying, demonstrating the pace that saw him claim gold"
Junior World Champion Kade Edwards was next. Aggressive and assured on the upper sections but not carrying the pace of Flo, the clock agreed. Over 2 seconds back at Split 1 with work to do. By Split 2 he'd sliced the deficit to just half a second and was flying, demonstrating the pace that saw him claim gold 2 weeks earlier in Switzerland. Though it wasn't to be, disaster struck after the road gap and he lost the front wheel, washing out on the long right-hander. Game over and dead last for the youngster.
Brage Vestavik was the first to best Flo's time. Tripoding and fishtailing his way through the first straight set the tone for the remainder of his run; loose but fast and right on the edge. Over a second down on Flo's time by Split 1 confirmed that the Frenchman had obliterated the top sector, but Brage was building a head of steam. By Split 2 he was .2 in the green, a lead that he maintained to the finish, crossing the line in 3:26:24 to secure the hot seat at least temporarily.
Laurie Greenland was next up, posting a cruiser that saw him finish 17 seconds back. With Flo and Brage sitting 1st and 2nd and just .2 the difference, everything was pointing to a tight race, that was until Charlie Hatton got on course. After a massive concussion forced him out of contention last year, Hatton had the bit between his teeth. A second up at Split 1, 3 seconds by Split 2 and still building pace. He crossed the line in 3:18:92, smashing Vestavik's time by almost 7 seconds.
"Kerr was riding on the edge and hitting lines that we'd not seen in the dry, never mind the wet"
Riders came and went but Hatton's time stood strong. Alexandre Fayolle and Joe Smith posted heaters, slotting into 4th and 5th respectively, but it wasn't until Bernard Kerr tackled the mountain that Hatton's stewardship over the hot seat was threatened.
Few have experienced Hardline success like Bernard Kerr and he's not been outside of the top 3 here since 2015. All-or-nothing, Kerr was riding on the edge and hitting lines that we'd not seen in the dry, never mind the wet. By the first split, he was already almost 3 seconds up and charging. A few mistakes towards the lower section did little to hinder his time and he crossed the line over 6 seconds up on Hatton. 3:12:30, the winning run?
"It was the perfect storm for an in-form Atherton"
Just one man left, the last man down. Gee Atherton wanted this badly. Usurped at Worlds and hampered here in the past with mechanicals and injury, it was the perfect storm for an in-form Atherton. Green at split 1 and flying, green at split 2 and flying. The most aggressive rider on course, Gee was charging and mistakes were inevitable. Coming unclipped before the road gap cost him time, but it was negligible. He crossed the line in 3:07:13, over 5 seconds quicker than Kerr to claim his first Hardline win.
Long live the King.