September 11th, 2019 12:00am
By now many of you have seen or heard about the final world cup downhill of the season. Following all the hype and excitement of the World Championships it wasn't out of the realm of thinking that the final UCI Downhill in the US, hosted in Snowshoe Virginia would be nothing more than a ceremonial walk through to end the season.
But with a battle for the overall World Cup Champion in both the Mens and Womens races to be decided, it was anything but boring.
For starters, the Snowshoe course held up and proved to be a very challenging course. It was a different kind of course. One that mixed in steep sections with old school rock gardens and even made the racers pedal.
It was the subtleties of the course that made this race a great one. Requiring riders to keep momentum because the rock gardens appeared on the flatter portions of the course where they could rob you of momentum. Those were follow up by pedaling section near the bottom. Fitness definitely played a roll, but if you bobbled in the rock garden, it was nearly impossible to gain it back. Just too many good riders.
Starting with the womens race for the stripes it was between the points leader Tracey Hannah and Marine Cabirou sitting in second place. For Hannah the strategy was pretty simple. Finish higher than sixth place to win her first World Cup Overall. For Cabirou, it was go for the win and see what happens. Cabirou delivered a near perfect run crushing all previous time and had to wait in the hot seat for Hannah to make her pass. And with controlled consistency Tracey did just what she needed to do and kept it all together to finish 5th place and take the overall title.
The men has a similar scenario - with the Loic Bruni and Amaury Pierron in a dog fight for the overall series champion. Their point totals were closer and Bruni would have to finish third or better if Amaury won. The two French riders have dominated the season with three wins each and while they played a bit coy in energy levels, the riding got rowdy with Amaury sent a wild and time crushing run down the mountain taking the lead by over 5 seconds. American rider Charlie Harrison then laid down a scortcher that was just 3 tenths off the Pierron's best and put him in second place. This left little room for error from Bruni who rode next. Knowing the time Pierron had put down on the difficult course, Loic flew down the first section with the fastest time, knowing he could lock it all up with a fast run. Each section Bruni's lead shrank until it finally went into the red. Now Bruni must ride fast just to keep that third place position. Loic's bottom portion of the track was fast enough to put him in third place with only Danny Hart - the fast qualifier left.
A three time fastest qualilfier Hart had nothing to prove except that he could put it together on race day. A feat that he was yet to do in 2019. The formula was simple. If Hart finished infront of Bruni, Pierron would win the crown. If Hart could win the race, Bruni would win the overall.
Out of the gate and into the first two sections Hart was a bit down on time. It wasn't looking good for Pierron. When the rock garden section came Hart managed to keep his momentum as he flew through the technical bits with such smooth riding it just looked fast, and his time deficit was gone. In a virtual tie going into the last rooty - tech - pedally bottom section and the American crowd going nuts, everyong knew this race was going down to the wire. Hart floated through the technical rooty right hand turn and headed for the line to test his legs and lungs. Danny managed to hold off the hard pedalling French duo for a stunner of a run and a margin of victory of just .3 of a second. Hart's victory snatched the overall series from Pierron's grasp and gave it to Bruni who became the 4th rider in history to win the World Championship and the World Cup overall in the same year.
The excitement of the season could not have finished any more profoundly than a championshop going down to the last rider, in the last race, of the last run of the year. It was painful to see Pierron loose the series but fans were treated to such fantastic riding the whole year. It was great to see an American back in the mix with Charlie Harrison's best career finish in third place with Dakota Norton grabbing a top 10 and Aaron Gwin's return nabbing a solid 13th and working on his strength as he preps for next years return to challenge the French domination.
So a big congratulations to Danny Hart for taking the hard to come by win and to Tracey Hannah and Loic Bruni for the overall titles. A special mention must go to Amaury Pierron who made this season super competitive and solidified the French hold on DH scenen.
1st. Danny Hart: 3:03.627
2nd. Amaury Pierron: +0.656
3rd. Charlie Harrison: +0.971
4th. Loic Bruni: +2.149
5th. Greg Minnaar: +2.395
1st. Marine Cabirou: 3:43.032
2nd. Myriam Nicole: +1.995
3rd. Veronika Widmann: +3.482
4th. Tahnee Seagrave: +3.710
5th. Tracey Hannah: +4.825