The Worlds. All or nothing, no guts no glory, throw as many cliches as you can think of at it, it’s still true and this year was no exception. There’s something about the Worlds that brings out the wildest performances of the year as riders no longer have to think about carefully racking up a few points for the overall but just go all out for the number 1 spot. Loic Bruni became the second rider in recent times after Danny Hart to win his first senior elite level international race at the World Championships but where did he find the 2.3 seconds that prevented Greg Minnaar from taking his fourth rainbow jersey? Let’s take a look…
At split 1 the usual suspects were all up there. Bruni set the pace but both Minnaar and Brosnan were within a second at split 1, nothing this early on a track of this length and brutality. Marcelo Gutierrez-Villegas was the only man to disrupt the top 4 that dominated the World Cup this year at split 1, slotting in to fourth place just in front of Aaron Gwin. The eventual fourth placed rider Mike Jones wasn’t setting the field alight at split 1 – well outside the top 20 in 25th and 4.8 seconds behind Loic Bruni. This showed on the live coverage as rider after rider went fastest at split 1 and 2 only to lose out to Jones at the finish line.
20 year old Alexandre Fayolle showed his career best 10th place in Val Di Sole a couple of weeks back was no fluke by taking 8th place at split 1. He was one of the many crash victims in sectors 2 and 3 but in the last two races of the season he showed he could definitely be one to watch for 2016.
In sector 2 things started to get more technical and the pressure began to tell on some riders. Of course the most high profile faller in sector 2 was Aaron Gwin who will now have to wait another year to complete his World Cup and World Championship set. Alexandre Fayolle and Gee Atherton also dropped out of the top 10 with major crashes.
Of those that stayed on, Loic Bruni extended his lead, going fastest again in sector 2. Greg Minnaar dropped back a little, losing 1.5 seconds to Bruni on the sector and falling to 3rd place as Troy Brosnan kept up the pressure, less than a quarter of a second behind Bruni and still less than a second behind overall at split 2.
By split 2 these three were out on their own with Josh Bryceland 4.5 seconds back in fourth place at split 2. Sam Blenkinsop, Bryceland and Mick Hannah were the riders that made the most of sector 2. They set the fourth, fifth and sixth best sector times respectively and it was enough to move Bryceland up to fourth, Blenkinsop from 12th at split 1 to 6th at split 2, and Hannah up from 19th to 10th.
Sector 3, the steepest, wildest section of the course and the sector that Cesar Rojo proclaimed was where the race would be won and lost. Well not quite, but the one big winner in sector 3 was Mike Jones, storming from 13th place at split 2 to fourth place at the finish. Astoundingly though, his time wasn’t the fastest sector 3 of the day. After a big tumble in sector 2 Aaron Gwin dusted himself off and showed everyone what might have been with the fastest bottom sector of the day!
Did anyone lose it on the last section? Well Troy Brosnan was clearly on a quick run and only 0.8 seconds separated him from Bruni at split 2. What could have been? It’s worth remembering that when he wasn’t crashing, he was as fast, if not faster than Gwin in the last few World Cup races and Bruni gave up 0.8 seconds to Gwin in the final sector. What could have been indeed…. Of course Bruni was still well up with the pace, being the only rider other than Jones to go within a second of Gwin’s time. Finally he put three fast sectors together and had that little bit of luck to take the win that he has been promising all season.
While Mike Jones didn’t quite do enough for a World Champs medal, Josh Bryceland was the beneficiary of Troy Brosnan’s crash in the final sector, hopping up one place to take his second World Championship medal in as many years (remember, he still managed to take silver last year after his little final jump mishap). It was also good to see Remi Thirion up there in the steep sector where he demolished the field in 2013. Not quite as fast as two years ago but still good enough for 6th place on the sector. After a crash in the mid section Sam Hill also dusted himself off to go 7th fastest here.
A final mention has to go to fellow Dirt contributor Wyn Masters who made it into the Geek Stats with the 20th fastest sector 2 and 19th fastest sector 3. Good work Wyn!
The right way to end the season
And so the World downhill season draws to a close in satisfying style. The man who never seemed to get the rub of the green all year finally put together a blistering run that broke his world class winning duck in the single most prestigious race of the year. People talk about the curse of the rainbow jersey, certainly neither Gee Atherton or Manon Carpenter have managed a World Cup win since their World Championship winning runs in 2014, but could it be that Bruni is just hitting the crest of a wave? We’ll just have to wait until next season to find out….