In an amazing show of grace and skill, Steve Peat has once again amazed the downhill masses. In Andorra, he seized the top step of a World Cup podium for the second race in a row. But more significantly, it was his 17th win overall, moving him one victory ahead of Nicolas Vouilloz, who previously held the record for World Cup wins.
Fellow racers were completely stoked. Ben Reid, with his thick Irish brogue and a sense of history put it succinctly. "It's pretty cool, in't it?" he said. "Winningest racer ever. And we got to see him do it."
Added long-time fellow competitor, Andorra resident and host of the post-race festivities, Cedric Gracia: "Taking seventeen. On my track. In my country. It couldn't be better. And I know tonight, we are going to burn my bar and my nightclub! It's gonna be awesome."
The day officially began at 1:15:01.01 p.m., when Micayla Gatto of locally based Commencal bikes rolled down the start ramp. First down, first hot seat. The young Canadian got comfortable and held the seat until Melissa Buhl came rolling in with a seven second advantage.
"Oh well, at least I got to get it good and warm for her," Gatto said.
Buhl held the seat for number of racers, but then Mio Suemasa laid claim to it, and from there the seat changed hands with nearly each new racer to cross the line. Then, with all eyes watching the live feed, Sabrina Jonnier dropped onto the course. By the first split, the Rocky Mountain-Maxxis rider had already taken a second out of the time of current race leader Emmeline Ragot. By the next split, she had nearly a three second advantage. It was no surprise to see Jonnier stop the clock at 2:41.58—+03:87 faster than Ragot. Tracy Moseley took third (+03.89), Celine Gros took fourth (+06.19), and Nicole Myriam rounded out the podium (+06.83).
"I am super happy," Jonnier said. "My run was smooth and fast, and great fun. I want to do more courses like this."
With the men, it became the Steve Peat show as soon as the big man from Sheffield took to the course. He rolled off the start ramp with a wave to the cameras ("I just wanted to have a good time, you know?" he explained after the race) and 2:22.05 seconds later he had delivered the race's fastest time, with only Gee Atherton and Sam Hill left to drop in.
Gee gave it a good run and came impossibly close to unseating Peat. A pedal stroke somewhere? Maybe a tad too much brake? A corner taken a hair too wide? Who knows. But when Gee punched the clock, he was a heartbreaking two one hundredths of a second back.
All eyes went to the big screen and watched Hill take to the course. His first split was devastatingly fast on such a short course: he was almost a full second and a half faster than Peaty. But early splits can be deceiving, especially on this course. Mick Hannah succinctly summed it up before the race: "Keeping speed is key, it's too short to really make any mistakes," he said. "Other than the top, there's not much line choice. Then it becomes speed management. Going too fast here has consequences."
Consequences indeed. When Hill rolled through the second split, he was more than five and a half seconds back. Something had obviously happened to the Monster/Specialized rider. The crowd began to sense a Syndicate victory. Hill has made the impossible happen before, but on this track—with few opportunities on the lower section for any of his signature "secret" lines—the chances of Hill staging a comeback were rapidly diminishing. And as Hill pulled into the finishing straight, four seconds and change down, absolute bedlam ensued.
An incredibly dejected Hill pulled his bike around, looked at the clock, and lowered his head. Fellow racers and media swarmed a jubilant Peat, but after a few minutes he broke free and offered his hand to an obviously disappointed Sam Hill. His crash—a clipped pedal mid-scrub off of the fade-away separated him from his bike—had pushed him off the podium and all the way down to 31st.
As Peaty made his way to the podium, the crowd drank in the win. It will surely be a long, long time before we see another rider surpass this mark. Unless it's Peaty himself—there's a lot more racing left this year, and Fort William, site of the next round, is Peat's home turf.
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