The grand finale of one of the most exciting downhill seasons in a long time didn’t disappoint did it?! Fast exciting racing, crashes, a final twist, it had the lot. Although Hill and Bryceland were up there, Gee Atherton’s run was consistent enough to take the title, so where did he manage to find the time, on a less than perfect run, to take the World Champs?
At the first split it was Josh Bryceland who took the early lead but Danny Hart was less than 0.4 seconds back with Gee only a tiny bit further back in 3rd. Sam Hill was the only other rider within a second of Bryceland here. While Greg Minnaar was 1.319 back in 5th at this point, only 1.6 seconds covered the rest of the top 20 from Minnaar back to Markus Pekoll. Troy Brosnan again had a bad start, only going 11th fastest but Old School Peaty was still up there at the first split too in 10th place!
In to Sector 2 and this was where Sam Hill took the bull by the horns. A full second faster than Bryceland here, enough to edge him into the lead overall at split 2 by just one-fifth of a second. Gee Atherton gave away over two seconds to Hill in Sector 2 and was 1.5 seconds back overall going into the final part of the course a surely insurmountable gap… Of the top 5 at split 1, Danny Hart and Greg Minnaar dropped out with crashes but on the flip side, Neko Mulally was storming down with no chain to set the 5th fastest time in Sector 2 and move up to 5th overall! At this point Steve Peat went 8th fastest and was sitting pretty in 7th overall at split 2 as well; still not bad for the old timer! Troy Brosnan also took advantage of others’ mistakes, going 3rd fastest on the sector which was enough to jump up to 4th overall.
And this is where the whole thing got shook up once again! Hill crashed out in the rocks and suddenly the race was wide open again. Well, it was Josh Bryceland’s to win until his massive gas to flat on the final bridge jump. All of this carnage allowed Gee Atherton to sneak in and take the win by going third fastest on Sector 3. Overall he just pipped Josh by only 0.4 seconds. Troy Brosnan recovered from his slow start to post the second fastest Sector 3, giving him the bronze medal overall. Brook Macdonald also recovered from a relatively slow start to go fastest in Sector 3 and sneak into the top 5 overall.
The most interesting name on the sector sheet has to be Graeme Mudd. The Aussie came 41st overall with 29th in Sector 1 and 69th in Sector 2 but then smashed Sector 3 to grab the 8th fastest time! Not bad for a man whose only World Cup result of the season was 29th in Cairns!
The heatmap really shows how topsy turvy this race was. Of the overall top 10, only three (Atherton, Bryceland and Mulally) were in the top 10 at the first split, and one of them had no chain! With so many crashes, there was some opportunity for riders who had made smaller mistakes up top to recover further down. Brook Macdonald recovered from 27th at split 1 to end up 5th overall for example.
So that’s that for World Cup and World Champs downhill in 2014, a fitting end to an incredible season. Unpredictable and exciting to the last seconds of the last run and leaving me wanting more. I’m looking forward 2015 already!