Check out extended highlights from one of the tightest-ever battles for the UCI World Cup.

Posted: April 6, 2014 by kirisyko in Bike, Mountain Biking
Tags: , , , , ,

With the 2014 UCI World Cup season only weeks away, it still feels like yesterday that the champagne corks were flying to mark the end of last season’s campaign. The battle for the title was a clash of personalities, approaches and riding styles. In many ways it was the ultimate showdown.

Gee Atherton started the year in the kind of form that had his opposition questioning their months of pre-season training and journalists the world over fearing a year of regurgitating superlative-laden paragraphs. He dominated national and international races without mercy. He was on fire.

When fully in the mood, there was a swagger about Gee and, with victories in Fort William and Val di Sole, it was most definitely in full effect.

Gee Atherton performs at the UCI World Cup round in Leogang in September 2013
Meanwhile, Canadian Stevie Smith, was continuing on his upward trajectory to stardom. A win in Hafjell at the end of last season had buoyed his credentials as a title hopeful but three victories at the Crankworx Festival had only warmed him up. He took a win in Mont Sainte Anne which will go down as one of the all-time great race runs.

Down until the very last split, it was a fitting broadside for what would become a charge to the line like no other.

The two remained entwined at the top of the leaderboard as the weeks ticked by. The title showdown came down to the final round in Leogang, Austria. Smith went fastest in qualifying and for the first time in the season, took the points lead.

Of course, qualifying points aren’t awarded until the end of the weekend, but it was no less of a march on Team Atherton. Stevie looked relaxed, like a rider who knew if he simply rode to his abilities then a win would come. Even if he didn’t win the overall, he’d still have had the best season of his young career.

Atherton looked steely by comparison. He’d been here before, having slugged it out with Greg Minnaar to take the 2010 overall title, and for the first time he now found himself chasing the 2013 honours.

Steve Smith races through the finishing line at the UCI World Cup round in Leogang in September 2013
As he crossed the line on race day, Gee looked deflated – like a man who knew he hadn’t done enough. By comparison, Stevie, the last man down, bristled, he threw his head round before he’d even hit the brakes to confirm what he knew was already a good run had indeed secured him the world title.

So what will have changed for this season? Will Stevie pick up where he left off or will the number one plate bring with it a fresh self-awareness and pressure? Gee will have toughed out the cold Welsh winter and trained harder than ever before – Leogang hurt, make no mistake.

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