Constant rain over the past week made the downhill coursein Cairns extremely muddy and slippery, with riders having to run a fine line between pushing for a fast time and not overdoing it and crashing. As the day wore on the rain stopped and the track began to dry out in places, which actually made things worse in some sections, since the mud got sticky, clogging up tires and drivetrains.
Tahnee Seagrave (FMD Racing) was the first woman to record a sub-5:30 time, but the times began to steadily drop, with Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Riding Addiction), at five riders to go, taking the leading time below 5:20. Former World Champion Emmeline Ragot (Lapierre Gravity Republic), the third from last rider to start, slotted in just behind Nicole, after recording a very fast upper section before crashing.
However, just like in Round One, it came down to the two British riders – Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen), the World Cup leader, and World Champion Rachel Atherton. Carpenter took the leading time down to 5:02, but Atherton smashed that time, recording a 4:50, to take both the win and the leader’s jersey.
“I think everyone was nervous, because the track is absolutely ruined,” stated Atherton. “It’s like riding through peanut butter. But when you hit the rocks you were worrying about crashing and you were sliding all over the place! For me it’s been a hard start to the year after getting sick [at Round One in Pietermaritzburg], and then getting such hard conditions here. The team worked so hard on the bike and the suspension set up … here I was definitely just a passenger.”
Atherton and Carpenter are now tied with 450 points, followed by Nicole at 297 points and Ragot at 295.
The men’s race saw American Eliot Jackson become the first rider to go under 4:20, and the leading slowly crept down, with many riders having a good start only to slide out further down the course. Australian hopes were raised when Sam Hill (Chain Reaction Cycles.com/Nukeproof) took the leading time down to 4:07, 15 seconds faster than the time of fastest qualifier Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre Gravity Republic).
However, Hill didn’t get to spend much time in the Hot Seat, as Josh Bryceland (Santa Cruz Syndicate) knocked another three seconds off with 15 riders remaining. Loic Bruni (Lapierre Gravity Republic) and Neko Mulally (Trek World Racing) were both fastest at the top section, only to crash further down, leaving Bryceland in the top spot ahead of Mulally, with hopes of his first World Cup win. Unfortunately for Bryceland, compatriot Gee Atherton showed why he is one of the top riders on the circuit when he obliterated the leading time by 4.2 seconds, almost cracking the the four minute barrier.
None of the remaining riders could match Atherton’s time, with World Champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) sliding off course (he was later disqualified) and Round One winner Aaron Gwin (Specialized Racing DH) losing time in the slippery root sections. The final rider, Sam Blenkinsop, struggled through the rocks before making up some time at the bottom, but it was only good enough for sixth.
“It’s absolutely amazing to win,” said Atherton. “It’s been a tough week, with changing conditions all the time, but the crowd was pushing all the riders on. It was a wild ride, so I’m absolutely over the moon to be on the top step. In conditions like these you don’t know if you can do it. I knew I had the speed, and luckily I held it together and made it to the bottom. The first World Cup was a rocky start for me, so I’m stoked to win this next one.”
Gwin, after finishing fourth, retains the World Cup lead with 415 points, while Gee Atherton vaults from tenth to second in the standings at 305 points, followed by Minnaar with 275 points.
In the Junior men, Loris Vergier (Lapierre Gravity Republic) was the top finisher, taking the lead in the overall standings with his victory.
Photo: Gee Atherton (GT Factory Racing) set the time that was impossible to beat