What a race! Steep, slippery roots, fast open sections, pedaling, crashes, spectators crashing bikes, it had it all. Gee took the win, making a few adjustments to the bike since PMB and bouncing right back from a disappointing start to the season. The time gaps were pretty big but as we’ll see there was a lot of movement in the leaderboard all the way down the course with crashes and mistakes proving costly, but also possible to recover from to some extent. Interesting racing also seems to make for interesting stats it seems. Lets get stuck in shall we?
In sector 1, there was a select 9 riders that started much faster than the rest but with some big gaps between them. Loic Bruni set the early pace with fellow young gun Neko Mulally continuing his strong start to the season in second place, 1.2 seconds back. Sam Hill was also within 1.5 seconds in third with Gee Atherton and Danny Hart making up the podium positions at this point. Whilst 4.7 seconds separated the top 10, only 1.3 seconds separated the places from 10th to 20th. This group included PMB winner Aaron Gwin, finding it harder to make a fast start in the mud, back in 17th place.
Into sector 2 and there was a big shakeup in the top riders when it came to second split. Gee Atherton smoked this section, taking over 4 seconds out of everyone bar Aaron Gwin and Josh Bryceland. Early pace setter Loic Bruni crashed out of contention here. With that, Atherton took the lead overall, Gwin clawed his way up from 17th to 5th and Bryceland went up to 2nd. The big losers on sector 2 were Danny Hart with a crash that put him back to 40th on the sector and out of the top 20 overall. Brendan Fairclough also couldn’t keep his Sector 1 pace up with 34th on sector 1, dropping to 23rd overall after a crash that left him with a kneepad around the ankle for the rest of the run.
The final sector, including one of the most XC style bit of pedaling into the finish I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was the TV making it look flatter than it was but I’d be disappointed to see that on a local enduro race stage! The one thing it did do however was sort the men from the boys in the fitness stakes after a pretty gruelling race so far. Sam Dale showed that his 4th place on the pedal section at PMB was no fluke by taking the fastest time on sector 3 and jumping from 16th at split 2 to 8th at the finish. The most unexpected name in the sector 3 charts was Jack Moir. He was visually attacking the bottom section harder than a lot of other riders and was rewarded with 4th fastest on sector 3 and a prolonged stay in the hotseat. He also managed to make up plenty of places on the bottom section going from 18th at split 2 to 11th at the finish.
In the race for the win, none of Atherton’s rivals in the top 5 at split 2 could pull off an upset. Gee stayed up there in third place on the sector, within a second of Dale, while Bryceland gave away another 0.6 seconds, Gwin was 10th fastest and Hill and Mulally were only just in the top 20. On the face of it Gee took a pretty comfortable win,
A topsy-turvy race
The thing that stands out from this race is quite how unpredictable it was in so many ways. The placings on the heatmap are all over the place. As so many people crashed, a fast sector, and just about staying out of trouble on the rest was good enough to get you a top 10 in many cases. Neko Mulally placed 3rd with a crash and only going 20th fastest on the final sector and Gwin got 4th after going 17th fastest at the first split and 10th in sector 3!
One way you can really see how crazy this race was is to look at the top 10 at split 1 and see where they ended up. In PMB, 8 out of the top 10 riders at split 1 finished the race in the top 10. Here, only five did, and only two of them (Atherton and Bryceland) managed to improve their position by the finish. Truly a crazy race that made for some exciting racing for sure!
So the circus packs up and heads to the northern hemisphere for Round 3 in Fort William at the start of June. What have we learned so far? So far no one new has added themselves to the select list of World Cup winners with Gwin and Atherton keeping it pretty familiar on the top step but podiums for the likes of Neko Mulally, Loic Bruni and Josh Bryceland so far it can surely only be a matter of time. What price a new winner at Fort William?