One week after the Atherton siblings from GT Factory Racing won the opening round of the Downhill UCI World Cup presented by Shimano in Fort William, Scotland, the duo repeated in Val di Sole, Italy.
Val di Sole is a very different track from Fort William. Where the first round was long and favoured physical fitness and pedaling ability, Val di Sole is steep and technical, full of roots and rocks that can catch a rider unawares, and require split second decisions.
Rachel Atherton won the qualifier decisively and, barring a mechanical or crash, looked to be hard to beat. However, Val di Sole is a track where either can happen in an instant, so her victory was not a forgone conclusion.
Canada's Micayla Gatto set the first sub 4:10 time, which lasted until Myriam Nicole (Commencal / Riding Addiction) broke the four minute mark. Nicole's time stood up until five riders remained, when her countrywoman Floriane Pugin (Gstaad-Scott) knocked another three seconds off the leading time. World champion Morgane Charre (MS Mondraker) slotted in just behind Pugin, and then Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic) went below 3:50 to take the lead. However, Atherton was already on course, and her first split showed that the British rider was on a stellar run, beating Ragot by over five seconds at the finish line.
A relieved Rachel Atherton
"My Life! This track is ridiculous," exclaimed Rachel Atherton. "I am so glad it is over. I think all the girls have been worrying about this race. I was coming into it very nervous. I am glad it is out of the way. I can't believe I got the win. You need everything you've got up there to get down in one piece. To get down with a good run and beat these girls is awesome. I saw them this morning on practice and I thought: 'Oh dear, they are going fast'."
Rachel Atherton now leads the women's standings with a perfect 500 points, with Ragot at a distant 380, and Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) at 300.
The men's race was considerably closer than the women's. Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) set the first sub 3:20 time, with 21 riders remaining. His time in the Hot Seat was brief, with Troy Brosnan (Specialized Racing DH) knocking over a second off three riders later. Brosnan spent a long time on the Hot Seat, as rider after rider failed to come close to his time of 3:16.306 .
It wasn't until eight riders to go that Loic Bruni (Lapierre Gravity Republic) set a new best time, however, he barely had time to try out the Hot Seat because world champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) came through next over a second faster, with six riders remaining. Former world champions Sam Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles.com/Nukeproof) and Danny Hart (Giant Factory) both crashed and Brook MacDonald (Trek World Racing) was off the pace.
Finally, with three riders remaining, Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) knocked a quarter of a second off the top time. The defending World Cup champion, Aaron Gwin (Specialized Racing DH) came down second to last, but was three seconds off the pace, so only Gee Atherton was left - the fastest qualifier and winner of round one. Atherton was a third of a second faster than Smith at the first split, half a second at the second split, and a full second ahead at the finish, to record his second straight win.
Gee Atherton "over the moon"
"I am absolutely over the moon," said Gee. "Everyone was flying this weekend and then I saw my sister take first place in the women's before I left, so the pressure was on. Getting one more with Rach is an amazing feeling; two weekends in a row. Unbelievable. It was incredibly hard. Everyone is flying at the moment, on top of their game This weekend is the second World Cup I have raced the new bike and it is incredible to be fair. The track was so rough, so beat up and that bike made my job so much easier."
Gee Atherton leads the men's standings with 490 points, followed by Smith at 352 and MacDonald with 262.
In the new Junior men's category, Dean Lucas (Australian National) won, and takes the overall lead in the World Cup standings. Phil Atwill (Madison Saracen) finished second and sits third in the standings, behind round one winner Noel Niederberger (Gstaad-Scott), the winner of round one.