A buoyant Rachel Atherton extended her lead at the top of the Downhill standings today with victory in the penultimate round of the UCI MTB World Cup.
The British rider was 1.4 seconds faster than reigning world champion Emmeline Ragot and 3.1 seconds quicker than Floriane Pugin, who was riding on home soil. Atherton's fellow Briton, Manon Carpenter, also put in a fine performance and came home fifth quickest.
In one post-race interview, Atherton had this to say: “I had a good run, tried to keep up the momentum but not mess things up. The track is very dry and fast and pretty sketchy, with hard turns, so it's easy to make a mistake. I like it, I didn’t think it would be that good here.”
Atherton is now on 1,200 points – 80 ahead of her closest rival Ragot.
In the men's finals, Aaron Gwin missed out on the top three but still managed to claim the overall Downhill World Cup title, which more than made up for crashing badly in qualifying.
Gwin was quickest for much of the afternoon, until Greg Minnaar and Gee Atherton took to the track. The latter notched a lightning quick 2:19.973 to take the lead from South Africa's Minnaar and it looked like the Brit might win his first Downhill World Cup since 2010.
It wasn't to be, though. New Zealand's Brook MacDonald put in a brilliantly controlled yet aggressive performance in one of the afternoon's final rides to take the victory. He came off the final jump 0.4 seconds quicker than Gee Atherton and 0.6 seconds faster than Minnaar's British team-mate Josh Bryceland.
“I can’t even explain it in words," said MacDonald after the race. "I had a solid run, no mistakes. It was just one of those runs were you come down strong, I’m over the moon."
"I’ve had big struggles over the season," he continued, "and I was at the point where I was actually hating riding. But I changed a few things, including the set-up, and it’s paid off. I think I’m going to party for a week now.”
Overall champion Aaron Gwin did well to finish fifth after his crash in qualifying. The Californian put in a still-impressive ride with five stitches in his hand.The Downhill riders return to the UCI World Cup tour on September 14-15 when they reconvene in Hafjell, Norway, for Round Seven.
Women's Val d'Isère DHI results
1. Rachel Atherton, GT FACTORY RACING, 2:38.967
2. Emmeline Ragot, MS MONDRAKER TEAM, +1.487
3. Floriane Pugin, SCOTT11, +3.118
4. Myriam Nicole, COMMENCAL / RIDING ADDICTION, +4.249
5. Manon Carpenter, MADISON SARSUI19860919 SCOTT11, +8.181
7. Petra Bernhard, ALPINE COMMENCAL AUSTRIA, +11.118
8. Sabrina Jonnier, LABYRINTH SHIMANO RACING TEAM, +12.794
9. Mio Suemasa, +13.499
10. Morgane Charre, PASSION VELO.FR, +14.369
Men's Val d’Isere DHI results
1. Brook MacDonald, MS MONDRAKER TEAM, 2:19.478
2. Gee Atherton, GT FACTORY RACING, +0.495
3. Josh Bryceland, SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE, +0.677
4. Greg Minnaar, SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE, +0.867
5. Aaron Gwin, TREK WORLD RACING, +1.366
6. Michael Hannah, HUTCHINSON UNITED RIDE, +1.893
7. Marc Beaumont, GT FACTORY RACING, +2.110
8. Cameron Cole, LAPIERRE INTERNATIONAL, +2.296
9. Rémi Thirion, LABYRINTH SHIMANO RACING TEAM, +2.453
10. Andrew Neethling, GIANT FACTORY OFF-ROAD TEAM, +2.63