Aaron Gwin has claimed his seventh first place finish having won the third round of the UCI Downhill World Cup in Fort William! Gwin laid down a flawless race run in less than perfect conditions.
Having crashed twice in his qualifying run Gwin, testing new tyres, relied on being a protected top 20 racer to secure his spot at the top of the mountain, meaning he set off for his race run a lot sooner than he’s used to. Gwin joked afterwards that this was the longest time he’d ever spent in the hot seat, and as a Californian native was starting to feel the cold!
Steve Peat suffered a nasty crash in a practice run that left him with a torn hamstring and unable to do anything more in his qualifying run than too simply roll out the start gate to reserve his place in the race. Unfortunately though Peaty’s injury was too much and after the first section was forced to simply roll down the hill, clearing the track for Gwin and Transition’s Sam Dale, who finished eighth, his highest ever World Cup finish.
There’s a lot of history at Fort William and last year Brook MacDonald played his part in it finishing third, but today a crash in the woods dashed any chances of a repeat success so instead the Mondraker put on a great show for the crowds, turning on the style and whipping all the new tabletops on the motorway section and the famous Fort William archway. Cam Cole is another kiwi who has done well here in the past, but today tenth place was the best he could muster up.
Sam Hill has had a rough past two seasons, but a seventh place in Val di Sole last week and a fourth place finish today means one thing. Hill is back, no doubt about it. Greg Minnaar has won here more than any other rider, but today wasn’t his day and as he crossed the line it looked like he had to nurse home a mechanical and he finished in sixth place.
With conditions worsening and the top section of the track almost a white out conditions were not too dissimilar to those in Champery last September. If one man was going to excel in circumstances like this and knock Gwin off the hot seat it was going to be Danny Hart. At the first split Hart was up on Gwin’s time and the pit area was getting wild, but Hart lost time in the middle section, and hard as he tried in the final section he crossed the line just eight hundredths of a second back on Gwin, his first World Cup victory still eluding him.
Gee Atherton was also up on Gwin’s time at the first split, but if there’s one thing Gwin is known for it’s finding time where no-one else has, and that’s exactly what he did here in Fort William, with Gee slipping back into third place when he crossed the line. It’s all about context though. Just a few weeks ago it was questionable whether Gee would be able to even make it to this race, let alone stand proudly on the podium.
Gee’s teammate Marc Beaumont was the last man down, qualifying fastest in very different conditions. No doubt Marc wanted a repeat of Val di Sole and to be up on the podium with Gee once again but a crash on the boardwalk at the top of the track halted any chances of that. Marc wasn’t the only rider to have been caught out by the slippery boardwalk. Steve Smith qualified fourth even with his hand injury, but also wiped out on the top of the track.
With Marc down victory went to Gwin and he reclaimed the series overall! Gwin said: “That was a hard run! I was hanging out by the bottom and didn’t have much left to give. I just tried to conserve it at the top and I can’t believe it paid off! The fans here are just taking it to another level so thanks so much to them for making it so cool for us!”
Elite Men’s Top Five
1 Aaron Gwin 4:48.210
2 Danny Hart +0.834
3 Gee Atherton + 2.516
4 Sam Hill + 3.532
5 Josh Bryceland + 5.056
Full results can be found here.
CRC/Nukeproof’s Joe Smith and Matt Simmonds finished seventh and ninth respectively, which along with Sam Dale in eighth meant there were six British riders in the top ten. I’m no mathematician but even I know that’s 60%! That’s a big turn around from the kiwi domination here last year. Must be all the jubilee celebrations!