A deep layer of fine dust wreaked havoc on the elite field at the Andorra World Cup downhill on Saturday.
Riders were crashing all over the steep, Andorran track as they tried to navigate constantly shifting ruts and pillows of loose dirt.
Two ever-consistent riders emerged victorious from a cloud of dust, which never quite seemed to settle. Loic Bruni once again led a dominant French contingent, while Rachel Atherton returned to the podium’s top step for a historic result.
Flying French take over Andorra
The days drama got going before the racing had started. Aaron Gwin’s no-luck year continued, with a second crash this weekend alone. After hitting a tree with his shoulder in morning practice, the American was forced not to start the race.
French riders have been an unstoppable force in 2019. Again in Andorra, they were on the move. Remi Thirion (Commencal) led the early charge. The winner at Andorra in 2013, Thirion set the fastest time early on, and spent much of the day in the hot seat.
Several riders looked like they might challenge Thirion’s time, including Greg Minnaar and Bernard Kerr and the denim wearing Italian Jonas von Klebelsberg. None could match his pace through the lower, steepest section of track.
It wasn’t until Brook MacDonald came barrelling down the course that Thirion was finally unseated. One rider earlier, MacDonald’s MS Mondraker teammate Laurie Greenland had again looked close, but lost ground to Thirion. MacDonald held strong, pushing into the lead a by just over a second.
With riders struggling to push the pace, MacDonald’s time looked solid. Until, that is, Loris Vergier (Santa Cruz Syndicate) came flying down the course to absolutely smash the New Zealand rider’s time by over five seconds. Vergier’s was the first in a series of incredibly French runs that would re-write the podium late in the day’s racing.
Amaury Pierron (Commencal Vallnord), the 2018 World Cup winner, looked much more controlled than Vergier. Pierron slid into second, 2.525 seconds behind Vergier, but a similar gap ahead of third place.
Troy Brosnan (Canyon Factory Racing), who came into the weekend as the World Cup leader, was the second last man down the mountain. The ever-consistent Australian was always close, but never ahead of Vergier’s time. Collapsing onto his bike, exhausted by the long, physical track, Brosnan squeezed between Pierron and Vergier, interrupting the French podium sweep.
When it looked like no one could match Vergier’s wild run, world champion Loic Bruni (Specialized Gravity Racing) burst out of the start gate. Fastest in qualifying by a razor thin 0.010 second margin, Bruni dissected the track with surgical precision. Looking in control at an unreasonably high speed, Bruni’s early lead slowly bled away on the steep sections where Vergier flew.
Across the line, Bruni still had a gap of 0.423 second, giving him his third World Cup win in four races this year. Bruni’s time in qualifying had moved him 5 points ahead of Brosnan in the overall standings. His win in Vallnord pads that lead over the Australian.
Rachel Atherton continues breaking records
After a steady start to the season that saw Rachel Atherton (Atherton Racing) finish with fewer wins than fans are used to seeing, the British rider was back on top in Andorra.
Her win in Andorra sees Atherton write her name into the record books, again. With a record 74 World Cup podium finishes, Rachel Atherton has the most of any female mountain biker, across disciplines.
The day started with Tracey Hannah (Polygon UR) putting in a strong challenge. Hannah was up at every split, before crashing on a wide open grass corner just before the finish line. While the Australian recovered quickly and moved into the lead, she had lost valuable momentum. On the next run, Eleonora Farina (MS Mondraker) went down two corners after where Hannah had.
Emilie Siegenthaler (Pivot Factory Racing) was the next to challenge Hannah’s time. Riding clean, the Swiss racer moved into second.
After qualifying third, Atherton was the next rider down the mountain. The most dominant woman in downhill mountain biking rode steadily, but in the lead, through the top section of the lengthy course. From the fourth split down, Atherton built up the solid seven second advantage that would see her take the win.
Marine Cabirou (Scott Downhill Racing) was second last down the hill. After finishing fourth at every World Cup round this year, Cabirou was visibly stoked to move into second at the end of her run.
Fastest qualifier Nina Hoffmann started ok, but quickly looked uncomfortable in the dust. After a few big saves, it was one close call too many and the German went flying into the woods. Hoffmann popped back onto the track to continue her run, but had come out of her left shoe in the crash. The Juliana rider did well to finish, but was off the pace in ninth.
Canadians in Andorra
Five Canadian’s qualified for the elite final in Andorra, all in the men’s race. Mark Wallace (Canyon Factory Racing) led the Canuck’s with a consistent run that saw him stay upright on the dangerous track. Wallace finished 16th at the days end.
Forrest Riesco (Commencal Canada) had an impressive run on the steep track, finishing 37th on Saturday. Henry Fitzgerald (Norco Factory Team) finished 49th, and Finn Iles 50th. First year junior Kendall McLean qualified for finals, but was not able to finish his run.