By: Colin Meagher
Just keep the rubber side down. That was the mantra racers chanted at the mountaintop as they warmed up for the finals. The weather had cleared up a bit from the previous day, but that meant the course would be made up of coagulating goop. The day's race would be a battle of attrition.
In the women's race, it was Emmeline Ragot rising to the top for the win--her first World Cup win of the twenty-four year old's career. The winning formula?
"Last week at the French Nationals Myriam (Nicole) beat me because I pushed too hard. I said never again. So at this race, I pushed hard on the top section--enough that I knew I was on a good ride--and then I relaxed and took it down a notch-ride it like I am just here having fun, you know?"
Emmeline rode strongly enough to take the win decisively over Sabrina Jonnier (+ 4.87 over Ragot's 5:27.25). The rest of the podium was (in order) Myriam Nicole (+9.72), Floriane Pugin (+11.65), and Tracy Moseley (+12.08).
In the men's field, it was a bit of drama as the final built up to the top riders. The pressure was on Sam "Blenki" Blenkinsop to reclaim the fire he showed two years ago at Schladming, winning there against Sam Hill. Blenki's been pushing hard this year, posting some amazing times, but just not sealing the deal. And yesterday was a smoker, with Blenki posting the top qualifying time--1.69 seconds over Damien Spagnolo of Mondraker.
Initially, Minnaar looked to be the man to beat. It looked as if the South African had posted a winning time as he roared into the finish with a smashing time of 4:04.98 seconds. But with fourteen riders left–including veteran racer Gee Atherton as well as Brendan Fairclough and Blenki–Minnaar had his doubts.
"I knew it wouldn't hold up," said Minnaar. "I made one simple mistake on an easy part of the track, and I just knew that would cost me."
But as rider after rider came home, Minnaar's time continued to hold. Upstart Brook MacDonald of the MS Evil team gave him a bit of a scare, but settled in five seconds back. Then came Fairclough, just a bit less than two seconds back. Three riders remaining, with Gee Atherton being the next one home. He dropped Minnaar off the hot seat with a time of 4:02.19. Spagnolo couldn't better Gee, leaving just Blenki as the one to watch.
Today, the pressure of qualifying first got to the Lapierre rider, as he came home in fourth, +4.81 seconds down behind Gee Atherton.
"I just rode to conservatively," lamented the Kiwi. "I also had some trouble keeping my feet on the pedals. It was so rutted out that I kept bouncing them right off the pedals. Everything else was great: no major mistakes, no crashes. I just played it too safe."
The men's podium, then, was Gee Atherton, then Minnaar (+ 2.79), Fairclough (+4.56), Blenki, and then Damien Spagnolo (+5.32).
In the points race, Minnaar and Atherton will be duking it out all season long; a mere 13 points separate the two with two races to go in the season. In the women's World Cup overall leader's race, Sabrina Jonnier continues to hold onto the lead; her nearest competitor, Floriane Pugin, is 205 points back. Barring an injury, Jonnier should take the overall.