Welcome to the return of downhill racing for 2017! In what was some of the best riding and most heart breaking weather, the opening round didn’t fail to entertain late on Sunday night with the reigning champion Rachel Atherton and Frenchman Alexandre Fayolle opening the UCI MTB World Cup season with solid wins.
Despite a dusting of snow at the start hut earlier in the week, things in France had stayed sunny and pleasant. The track, which had seen some minor changes from last year was running extremely fast and dusty, but Briton Atherton still had it all to do in the first race. As things stood after qualifying, it was her young compatriot Tahnée Seagrave who was the rider to beat after she finished 1.3secs up on Rachel with Australian Tracey Hannah also looking at home in the dust.
Miriam Nicole cheered the home fans with a classy ride on Sunday, however Hannah comfortably beat her time as British rider Manon Carpenter struggled. Atherton, though, is a class act and promptly obliterated the course to post a fearsome time of 3:21.430 which Seagrave fell short of beating by 2.735 seconds leaving Hannah in second place on the podium by the end. We’re thinking Tracey is in for a big year and we’d put money on her taking out Rachel for the top spot very soon…
1. Rachel Atherton 3m21.430s
2. Tracey Hannah 3m24.009s
3. Tahnee Seagrave 3m24.165s
4. Myriam Nicole 3m27.786s
5. Manon Carpenter 3m30.021s
Full results here.
Sadly bad weather was predicted later and like clockwork, fierce winds licked at the bottom of the track as the first of the elite men’s field began to enter the finish arena. Scotsman Fraser McGlone impressed with an early and lengthy sit in the hot seat before he was eventually displaced by Fayolle, who qualified in 52nd place. As he watched his run, which was just a tenth of a second off the previous day’s fastest qualifier, Fayolle puffed out his cheeks; he knew that it was good.
Canadian Mark Wallace came close (+3.3secs) as did Colombia’s Marcelo Gutierrez (+3.4secs).
But then the black clouds dumped on the mountain, with the start hut barely visible. One by one, big names like Gee Atherton and Bernard Kerr arrived at the finish line increasingly coated in mud shaking their heads in disbelief. The top 10 qualifiers never stood a chance with Aaron Gwin, the reigning overall champ, crashing as did his great rival of last season, Danny Hart.
The French crowd had come to see what was billed as a titanic dual between Loïc Bruni and Loris Vergier, but very few of them would have predicted a Fayolle win, a win which is the first for Polygon. Standing tall and staying onboard in what can only be compared to icy conditions, was Connor Fearon, bringing in a solid and well earned 5th place and a spot on the podium that will leave him hungry for a win this season….
1. Alexandre Fayolle 2m52.758s
2. Mark Wallace 2m56.084s
3. Marcelo Gutiérrez 2m56.199s
4. Florent Payet 2m56.556s
5. Connor Fearon 2m56.964s
Full results are available right here.
And if you didn’t get enough, you can watch it all on Red Bull TV here. Or check out the practice sessions below!