Smith and Atherton gain psychological advantage ahead of downhill shootout
Pietermaritzburg – With the globe’s mountain biking community eagerly counting down the hours to the start of Sunday’s men’s and women’s downhill events of the 2013 UCI MTB & Trials World Championships, Saturday morning saw Canadian Steve Smith and Rachel Atherton of Great Britain post the fastest times of the official timed runs in the men’s and women’s categories respectively.
Smith’s 4.03.021 run proving his blistering form of late has far from deserted him and he will almost certainly be one of a handful of riders to consider themselves serious title contenders ahead of Sunday’s action.
Despite smith going fastest, the vast majority of the interest around the timed session was around local Pietermaritzburg boy and defending World Champion Greg Minnaar who, after a relaxed middle section, posted the third fifth time, giving him good confidence before the real showdown takes place on Sunday.
“I just wanted to try get a feel of how the top section feels because obviously I need to be as quick as possible, particularly at the top. I took it easy for most of the rest of the way down and then gave it a bit of a spurt towards the end again,” explained Minnaar.
“It obviously wasn’t a full run but it was good race practice before tomorrow,” he added.
Despite the timed run not counting towards riders’ seeding, start order – or anything else for that matter – starting one’s run is compulsory in order to qualify to take part in the final.
“The timed run definitely isn’t a priority for many of the guys so you really can’t read too much into things and it probably means even less here in Maritzburg than it does elsewhere because the course is so physically demanding and so most of the guys would be looking to keep themselves for tomorrow’s race – when it all counts,” explained the man widely regarded by many as ‘the voice of downhill’ – Rob Warner.
“Having said that though, it does give you a few clues and it is great to see Michael Ropelato up in second considering he’s running 29 inch wheels!”
Whilst the likes of top men’s stars Aaron Gwin (USA), Samuel Hill (AUS) and Brook MacDonald (NZL) all holding their cards very close to their chests and posting the slowest, second slowest and fifth slowest times respectively, there was far less mystery in the women’s session as almost all of the pre-race favourites put in respectable runs.
World number one and 2013 UCI MTB World Cup top performer, Rachel Atherton of Great Britain, took full advantage of the opportunity to get to grips with the course she will compete on for the first time ever come Sunday whilst Aussie’s Tracey Hannah and Caroline Buchanan and France’s Morgane Charre all threw their name into the mix as well.
The French duo of Emmeline Ragot and Fionn Griffiths created a slight element of mystery when they opted not to complete their run however the majority of the pre-race curiosity continues to revolve around Buchanan as the looks to claim title number two of the three she will contest in the space of just two months.
“Doing downhill and four cross before Olympics was quite a big challenge for me but that did mean that after Olympics it wasn’t all new to me,” explained a clam and upbeat Buchanan. “It’s been quite a challenge training for all three because the training is all different and use different energy systems.”
“It’s been a bit of a strange year for me. Going after three titles in just two months has been pretty hectic. I went into BMX Worlds really relaxed and ended up winning there so I’ve tried to bring a similar sort of approach with me to this one.
“Today’s run also helped me quite a bit, I feel a bit more confident after the run. I’m obviously coming in a bit blind compared to a lot of the others so I’m not too sure what to read from everyone else’s times so I’m just looking to focus on my build-up because anything can happen on the day.
“Coming into it I was a little nervous because in BMX you’re in control a lot more whereas you’re always on the edge in downhill so tomorrow I’ve really got to focus on trying to just let go as much as I can and not hold back,” she added.
Despite the intrigue surrounding Buchanan it is Atherton who has been labeled by many as the pre-race favourite, despite having never competed at Cascades previously.
“It’s good to see Rach (Atherton) on top from the point of view that she’s had to learn the course, get all the jumps down, etc. but, again, tomorrow is when it all counts!” explained Warner.
The women’s event kicks Sunday’s downhill action off at 14h00 with the exhilarating men’s clash kicking off at 15h00.
The UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 26 August to 1 September 2013. More information can be found atwww.mtbworldchamps.co.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – UCI MTB & TRIALS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
DOWNHILL OFFICIAL TIMED RUN
1.Steve Smith (CAN) 4.03.021
2.Mitch Ropelato (USA) 4.05.229
3.Gee Atherton (GBR) 4.05.534
4.Michael Hannah (AUS) 4.05.780
5.Greg Minnaar (RSA) 4.06.989
1.Rachel Atherton (GBR) 4.35.013
2.Tracey Hannah (AUS) 4.51.815
3.Morgane Charre (FRA) 4.53.549
4.Caroline Buchanan (AUS) 4.56.411
5.Manon Carpenter (GBR) 4.56.905