UCI Mountain Bike World Championships: Bruni and Atherton take DH titles to conclude Worlds
The good weather which showed up on Saturday continued on Sunday, drying the open sections of the course. However, in the forest it was still wet, and the rocks and roots were slick and dangerous, with many riders crashing.
Alanna Columb (New Zealand) set the first sub-six minute time for the women, but she was quickly displaced in the Hot Seat by her team mate Sophie Tyas. Three riders later, Canada's Miranda Miller took the lead, dropping the best time below 5:50. Miller was in the Hot Seat through seven riders before her team mate Casey Brown took the lead, only to be immediately replaced by Emilie Siegenthaler (Switzerland).
There were only six riders left, and next up was local favourite Myriam Nicole (France), who was on a good run until mechanical problems took her out of contention. Morgane Charre (France) knocked a few seconds off the leading time, but it was Tracey Hannah (Australia), with four riders to go, who smashed the leading time, knocking over 12 seconds off as she went below 5:20.
The final three riders were all from Great Britain, beginning with Tahnee Seagrave, who crashed and could only manage fifth. Defending champion Manon Carpenter then took nearly six and a half seconds off the best time, but there was still Atherton to come.
Atherton has been untouchable all season, winning six straight World Cups, and she proved once again why she is the best woman downhiller in the world, knocking over three seconds off of Carpenter's time to become the only rider to go under 5:10.
"Wow, I can't believe it," exclaimed Atherton. "I'm really happy. I knew it was going to be hard today. The track is crazy. So dry now compared to in the week. It's fast. You have to hang in all the way down. I wanted it this year. I wanted both titles back [world champion and World Cup overall]. It's pretty sick. I'm so happy."
"Getting beaten by Manon [Carpenter] last year kicks you in the ass a bit. You go into the winter thinking 'I gotta train'. It's amazing. Last year it was Brits 1-2-3 at the World Champs and this year 1-2. We are definitely holding our own."
Andreas Kolb of Austria, the eighth rider off in the field of 95 men, was the first to go under five minutes, but the leading time was dropping steadily as rider after rider came down. However, it wasn't until Michael 'Mick' Hannah (Australia) came through in under four and a half minutes that a leading time really stuck, and Hannah's time would proved good enough for tenth overall.
Hannah stayed in the Hot Seat through 23 riders before Mike Jones (Great Britain) finally surpassed him by three seconds, and Jones' time would proved to be equally strong, good enough for fourth overall and keeping him in the Hot Seat until three-time world champion Greg Minnaar (South Africa) took a further four seconds off.
There were only five riders left, and all were capable of winning the world title. Gee Atherton (Great Britain), the defending champion, crashed out of contention. Josh Bryceland (Great Britain) slotted in just behind Minnaar. Then it was Bruni's turn.
The young Frenchman has shown huge potential over the past few years, but has not managed to break through to the top step of the podium ... until now. Almost two and a half seconds in front of Minnaar, Bruni was assured of a medal, but there were still two riders to go.
Former world champion Troy Brosnan was on a good run, second to Bruni at the second intermediate split, but lost time at the bottom to finish sixth. The only rider left was Aaron Gwin (USA), the World Cup champion. He had a solid start to his run, fifth fastest at the first intermediate split, but then disaster struck, with a crash midway down the course. Bruni finally had his win, and in front of French fans.
"When I started I didn't feel that great," explained Bruni, "not confident. So I did everything I could to get a good rhythm. The first bit is pretty physical and I gave everything at the top. I tried to find a very good flow. I didn't believe it could be possible. I wasn't even thinking about the win and I had a good run. At the bottom were all the people and fans, so I went off the brakes and went really loose, and I held it to the bottom. It's amazing."