By: Colin Meagher
Downhill qualifying went smoothly. Yesterday's rain was greeted by beaming sunshine this morning that quickly dried the track. Riders got their lines dialed in short order during the morning's practice and were full 'pinner' by the time qualifying came 'round.
Sabrina Jonnier was not liking the track, and was working hard to get her line choice dialed in for some of the trickier sections. She was first off, but her time held for less than a minute; that's when fellow Frenchwoman Emmeline Ragot, the third rider off, lowered the bar by nearly 9 seconds. Two riders later, Tracy Moseley of Trek came in nearly 5 seconds up over Jonnier. This is just qualifying, but it does offer some World Cup points, not that Jonnier's strangle-hold on the women's overall is in any danger. Just the same, look for Jonnier to go digging for lost seconds on Sunday. Florian Pugin and Myriam Nicole were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Gee Atherton had a smoking qualifying run over World Cup points leader Greg Minnaar (Minnaar was fifteenth and nearly 10 seconds down), but barely edged out a blazing fast Sam Blenkinsop (+.81). Aaron Gwin qualified third at +1.21, followed immediately by Josh Bryceland (+2.76)--after failing to qualify in Champery; Bryceland no doubt felt the need to perform. Andrew Neethling rounded out the top five.
In an interesting note, by taking the pole position for qualifying, Gee is the virtual points leader over Minnaar for the World Cup overall by some 27 points. A win here will have the Commencal rider firmly in the driver's seat for Windham.
Qualifying starts in an hour, but it's beer-thirty already for these Italian fans.
Brook MacDonald's sixth place at Champery moved the 18 year old from New Zealand up 22 starting positions--just two steps away from the coveted protected plate status.
This track is a bitch. Rocks, roots, and steep. It may not look it here, but you've got all three in spades on this stretch, as Needles, Gwinnie, and Sick Mick all look to find the magic line.
Practice makes perfect for Steve Smith; he came home in twelfth place during qualifying.
That lucky lady bug glued to the top tube of her brand new Intense must have done the trick for Emmeline Ragot--first in qualifying, nearly 9 seconds up on Sabrina Jonnier.
Tracy Moseley appears to have regained form, qualifying second behind Ragot.
Minnaar can feel Gee Atherton breathing down his neck. A bit of off the the bike action saw the Syndicate rider back in unfamiliar territory-fifteenth.
Flying! Gee Atherton is feeling it.
Sam Blenkisop aboard the new Lapierre DH bike. ''The new bike is amazing. It's light. It's fast. And it just rides so well.''
Brendan Fairclough came in a bit off the pace: 7+ seconds back from Gee. ''I'll find a few more seconds between now and Sunday, no worries.''
Matti Lehikoinen tried to hug every tree in practice this morning in an effort to make friends. It seems to have worked, as the Finnish rider managed to qualify thirteenth.
Evil's Luke Strobel had a few crashes, but still qualified twenty first.
I'm not sure how good a picture the postage stamp sized camera the girl is shooting with is going to produce, but it's a keeper, that's for sure.
Chris Kovarik damn near took a piece out of the tree on his right as he came roaring through this section 100% flat out.
Ruaridh Cunningham was on a not so good qualifying run from the get go: fifty fifth at split one, fifty seventh at split two, and fifty ninth by the time the fat lady sang as he crossed the finish line. But he's qualified for the finals, and that's what really matters.
On fire: Josh Bryceland came steaming across the line in fourth, only 2.76 seconds back.
Duncan Riffle pinned in the upper rock garden.
Quintuple duty for Fabien Cousine here in Val Di Sole: full time student, team manager, DH racer, 4X racer, and now team wrench. ''What can I say? like to keep busy.''
In the Four Cross qualifying, not a whole lot happened, as riders take to the track solo for seeding and gate choice. Roger Rinderknecht perhaps surprised himself by edging out Jared Graves, but Anneke Beerten surprised no one by taking the qualifying "win".
Damian Smith and Jared Graves talking 'bout the trails back at Yeti HQ.
Joost Wichman qualified seventh.
Steffan Belastacci saved a few Euros on pins and went with the duct tape for fixing his number to his jersey
Anneke Beerten took the pole position without any worries.
Mickal Prokop took the third qualifying position, back about a second behind Roger Rinderknecht.
Michal Marosi keeping it low and fast over the table.
Cedric Gracia; he's been racing so long that if he didn't screw around, he'd go nuts.