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UCI MTB World Cup: R. Atherton extends lead, while Smith closes in on G. Atherton




The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano concluded with the penultimate fifth round of the Downhill which, as always, kept spectators guessing as to who would be the champion until the final rider.  Rachel Atherton (GT Factory) took her fourth victory of the season to extend her lead in the women's overall standings, while Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) took his second win in the men's category, and closed the gap on overall leader Gee Atherton (GT Factory) to a mere 17 points.

After sunny weather and dry, dusty conditions in the week leading up to the races, the weather turned overnight to cold, wet and windy, with intermittent rain throughout the day.  The slippery, muddy course meant that no one had a clean run, and caused more than a few crashes.

2012 world champion Morgane Charre (MS Mondraker) was the first to go under four and a half minutes for the women, and her time held up until the final four riders started.  Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) finally knocked eight-tenths of a second off the leading time, and neither Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction) nor round four winner Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic) could beat her.  However, there was still one rider remaining; Rachel Atherton, who, except for round four, has been unbeaten this season.  Atherton once again showed why she is the best in the world, with a four second advantage over Carpenter at the first split, and over seven and a half seconds at the finish line.

"I was so nervous before the race," admitted Atherton. "We had two runs this morning in the rain and it was lethal, so sketchy. You've got no idea how fast to hit stuff. I don't know if anyone saw, but I had a few moments up there, a few wild moments, where I thought I was going down. I didn't know how fast I was gonna go, so I just held on."

Atherton has now built a significant lead going into the final round, with 1085 points to second placed Ragot's 925.  Carpenter remains in third, but has closed the gap to Ragot, only 45 points back.

The men's race took place in even worse conditions than the women, with heavier rain and gusting wind.  Andrew Neethling (Giant Factory) was only the 15th rider down the course, but set a stellar time that would hold up for 56 riders and 90 minutes before his team mate Danny Hart would finally knock 1.1 seconds off of it.  Once Hart took the lead, it was four riders later that defending Hafjell champion Steve Smith came in 1.6 seconds faster.

However, there were still four riders to go, including world champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), who could only manage fifth, and the final rider, Gee Atherton, the World Cup leader.  Atherton came through the first split only half a second back, so he was in the hunt, but then slid into a tree, managing to avoid serious problems but slowing him enough that he could only finish 12th.

"It was a trippy day," commented Smith. "We practiced all week in the sun, complete dust, and today was miserable. Practice was actually quite good. It just rained all day and it just kept getting worse and worse. Coming into some of those corners that I was not braking for in practice, I just shit my pants, there was so much mud and ruts. I slid around quite a bit and definitely pushed it. I am so stoked to get this."

Atherton continues to lead the standings going into the final round next weekend in Leogang, Austria, but his lead has shrunk from a substantial 120 points to only 17, so this title will be decided at the final race of the season.

Michael Jones (FMD Racing/Intense Cycles) won the Junior men's competition, and took the overall lead in the series, moving six points ahead of Loris Vergier (Lapierre Gravity Republic).

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