The track in Les Gets was fantastic, quite possibly the best of the year and the crowds turned out in such numbers that this was definitely the biggest World Champs of all time.
All photos: Red Bull Content Pool
[NB: This report was written as-it-happened, in case you were wondering about the use of the present tense!]
This is the third time France has hosted the DH World Championships and no one can ever accuse them of not giving it their all.
Saturday began with the Juniors on track. In Junior Women, despite not having the best season so far 2021 World Champion wasn’t giving the Stripes up without a fight; she seeded fastest 4 seconds clear of Jenna Hastings with this season’s stand out rider Gracey Hemstreet in third. The Bulgarian DNF’d with a crash in her race run though and Hastings took the title for New Zealand.
1. Jenna Hastings 4:18.541
2. Gracey Hemstreet 4:20.411
3. Valentina Roa Sanchez 4:34.485
In Junior Men Jordan William won seeding and took the win in the race by 6 seconds. His great rival, 2021 World Champion Canada’s Jackson Goldstone crashed out. Given the epic battle the pair are having and how far they are ahead of the competition it’s fitting that they’ve both won Worlds as they head into Elite next season.
1. Jordan Williams 3:28.324
2. Remy Meier-Smith 3:34.240
3. Davide Cappello 3:36.021
As the Elite women took to the track the crowds were already huge and the clouds were looking moody. Myriam Nicole had posted the fastest seeding time a 3:56, some 6.5 seconds faster than anyone else although it didn’t count for anything other than a psychological advantage. Nina Hoffmann was second and Eleonora Farina third. Camille Balanche, just two and a half weeks after surgery on a broken collarbone somehow qualified sixth. Those times were set in dry and dusty conditions though and since then there’d been another day of practice and some rain.
World Championships really is a global festival of cycling. The Czech Republic’s Monika Mixova, who races in the UK and works for BMW on the World Superbikes circuit hasn’t raced her bike as much as she would like this year but set the early running with a 4:51. New Zealand’s Kalani Muirhead was 30 seconds up at Split 4 before crashing hard but she still crossed the line with a 16 second advantage. France’s Leona Pierrini was the first woman to attempt all the jumps on the motorway section at the end of the track and crossed the line in 4:16, giving her a 17 second advantage. Things went up a gear with 16 riders to go as GB’s Louise Anna Ferguson went 2.6 faster than the French woman. Then GB National Champ Stacey Fisher put nearly 9 seconds into Ferguson’s time. Her 4.04 was only 8 seconds off Myriam’s fastest qualifier and when World Cup top 10 regulars such as Veronika Widmann and Mille Johnset couldn’t get close to it, it became clear that it was a huge run.
Fisher’s time held all the way until the final 6. European Champion Monika Hrastnik was green by 1.7 at Split 3 and extended that to 5 seconds by the time she crossed the line.
Italy’s Elonora Farina has been third 3 times at World Cup races this season and was neck and neck with Hrastnik until she crashed coming out of a berm on to a flat section of track. Germany’s Nina Hoffmann, winner of the Fort William World Cup this season was the dark horse for the title. Pedalling out of every turn she was green by 3 seconds at Split 2. Gambling, she nearly lost everything at one stage but somehow saved it, only losing 0.2 of her advantage at Split 3. The Santa Cruz Syndicate rider sent all the jumps perfectly and posted the fastest time of the week so far, a 3.54, which gave her a 4.8 second advantage over Hrastnik.
Next in the gate, the favourite, 2 times World Champion, France’s Myriam Nicole. Up at Split 1, the crowd went up a level. By Split 3 her advantage is 2.1 seconds and she’s riding beautifully; fast but not out of control. Her lead drops to 1.8 at Split 4 but she doesn’t ride the bottom section as well as Hoffmann and she crosses the line 2.5 seconds back. No French Woman has ever won Worlds on home soil and that won’t change today.
Austria’s Vali Hoell is surely the last woman who can challenge Hoffmann. Up by 2.8 at Split 2 she’s visibly faster and is on a near perfect run with a 4 second advantage by Split 3 but it’s back to 2.8 at Split 4. Hoffmann’s bottom section was incredible, can Hoell hold on? She does, but it’s only by 0.9 when she crosses the line.
With her collarbone double plated, Switzerland’s Camille Balanche is the final rider in the start gate. She rides like it isn’t bothering her at all but surely she couldn’t live with Hoell and Hoffmann? 1.1 back at Split 1, it stretches to 4.4 at Split 3 and by that stage we knew Hoell will be the new World Champion, but could Balanche medal? No! She crosses the line in fourth just 4 seconds back but with that performance she will be confident she can secure the World Cup overall next weekend in Val di Sole. At just 20 years of age Vali Hoell becomes Austria’s first DH World Champion, Nina Hoffmann takes Silver and Nicole the Bronze.
1. Vali Hoell 3:53.857
2. Nina Hoffmann 3:54.763
3. Myriam Nicole 3:57.304
Over to the Men, all 82 of them. The early pace was set by Ireland’s (by way of Scotland) Henry Kerr with a 3:25 which was faster than Benoit Coulanges fastest qualifier, which meant conditions were near perfect and they looked set to remain that way with rain now not scheduled to arrive until after the race had been completed.
The crowds got up for the first French rider in the Men’s race, Antoine Vidal who crossed the line 1.7 back. Kerr’s countryman Ronan Dunne is having an incredible season and he puts in a typically wild run but he’s 2 seconds back. GB National Champ Greg Williamson had a big crash earlier in the week and another in his race run. The USA’s Luca Shaw, who’s missed 4 races this season goes second and with 20 riders to go it’s Kerr in first, Shaw second, Vidal in third.
Sweden’s Oliver Zwar puts a super smooth run down. He isn’t pedalling out of every corner like some other riders and he doesn’t look to be trying that hard, but it’s good enough to go fastest by 0.5. Aaron Gwin unbelievably only has one World Champs medal to his name but he’s hauling and conditions are perfect for the 5 times Series winner. He goes second by 0.2.
Dakotah Norton has the potential to medal and he’s a rider who has no issue with putting it all on the line. He lays down a clean run, going green by 18 thousandths at Split 5 but he loses a tenth between there and the finish line, second. Hold on to your hats it’s Thibaut Daprela time. Winner of the World Cup in Les Gets last year and fastest at every split in seeding before crashing near the bottom he still crossed the line in fourth. In his race run he’s hopping where no one else is but he’s leaving his braking a little too late; fast in, slow out he loses time all the way down.
Bernard Kerr is on a frighteningly fast run, carrying as much speed as possible on wider lines. He’s within. a second of Zwar coming into the final section but crosses the line in sixth. Spain’s Angel Suarez is another who could win this race; seeding third he’s an incredible rider on his day but he goes OTB exiting a corner. 2021 Bronze medallist, Australia’s Troy Brosnan is green at every split but never by more than 0.7. It’s one hell of a run though and he crosses the line 0.4 up.
With 10 to go it’s Brosnan in first, Zwar in second and Norton in third but we’ve got some big hitters to come. Austria’s David Trummer can’t get close, GB’s Laurie Greenland has been sick with food poisoning all week so he only broke the beam in qualifying. Green by 0.8 at Split 3, a small error near the end costs him and he crosses the line second just 0.1 back.
At 40 years of age, defending World Champion Greg Minnaar is riding at least one line no one else is hitting but he doesn’t have enough today, crossing the line 1.5 back. Austria’s Andreas Kolb hits a tree head on but still only crosses the line 5 seconds back. 2 times World Champion Danny Hart is Britain’s last chance of gold and he looks fast but somehow loses time all the way down. 5 to go…
4 times World Champion Loic Bruni is the first of 4 Frenchmen in final 5 and the crowd are going wild. Riding with a separated shoulder he skids around one of the early corners but he’s 2.2 seconds up at split 2. Inch perfect, he goes green by 3.9 seconds and the crowd explode. It’s a World Championship winning run; or is it? Fastest qualifier Benoit Coulanges might have something to say about that! The pace is insane but he’s 2.6 back at Split 2. He’s trying everything but he’s trying too hard and it’s not flowing like Bruni before him. Loris Vergier, also riding with a shoulder injury has been saving himself for this one run. Just like Coulanges he’s also 2.6 back at Split 2, crossing the line in second though just 3.3 back on Bruni. What a race this is!
After a huge crash in practice in which he destroyed his helmet, Finn Iles winner of the last World Cup in Mont Sainte-Anne doesn’t start which means we’re guaranteed a French winner, but could we have an all French podium?
The final rider in the gate is the man who should clinch the overall next weekend in Val di Sole, Amaury Pierron. With 4 wins already this season he’s the danger man and everyone knows it. Today, he just can’t live with Bruni though. Just over a second back most of the way down he crosses the line 2.5 into the red but it’s good enough for second and we do indeed have an all French podium. As you might expect, it’s carnage in the finish arena.
1. Loic Bruni 3:20.478
2. Amaury Pierron 3:23.059
3. Loris Vergier 3:23.864
What can you say about Loic Bruni? Second all time now behind Nicolas Vouilioz with 5 elite World Championship titles, he’s never won a World Cup in France but now, just like Fabian Barel in 2004 he’s won Wolrd Championships on home soil.
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