Rachel Atherton shines bright in Val di Sole
Riding her first World Cup of 2012 Rachel Atherton of GT Factory Racing took to the top step of the podium to celebrate an impressive win in front of a huge crowd in Val di Sole, Italy today.
Having missed Round One in South Africa in favour of recovering her shoulder after surgery, the youngest Atherton sibling was keen to make her first World Cup of the year one to remember. The steep and brutal track on the lower slopes of Val di Sole is one of the toughest on the circuit with new and old sections deep in loam hiding huge roots and rocks that were taking casualties all weekend.
Saturday’s qualifying session saw Rachel take second spot behind the current World Champion Emmeline Ragot despite battling with back markers on her run. Trailing the French woman by 6.6 seconds, Rachel had some work to do during Sunday morning’s practice. Working hard on her lines and bike set up she finished the session happy and ready for the finals. Times were toppling as we worked through the woman’s field with an almost constant change to the top of the leader board. It wasn’t until Frenchwoman and number three seed Myriam Nicole blasted on track that a significant lead was had. Her time of 3:53.921 was a huge 10 seconds clear of the field and looking good for the win. However next up was Rachel. She charged out of the start hut and put in a really strong top section clocking 1.9 seconds faster than Nicole, keeping up this progression through the second split where her lead improved to 2.7 seconds. A little bobble on the lower section didn’t deter her as she flew across the line in 3:49.436 seconds, 4.4 seconds quicker than Nicole, a good 7 seconds faster than Ragot’s qualifying time and a massive 12 seconds quicker than her own time from Saturday. This left Ragot on track – she went through the first split down on Rachel, the second split was a similar story, but on this track time can easily pulled back and she rode the bottom section really strong but it wash’t enough to topple Atherton. Arms aloft Rachel marked the start of her World Cup season in style showing she will be one to watch as the season progresses.
“I’m made up with the win today, I put in a big effort to pull back the gap on Emmeline, my bike was working so well despite me nearly throwing it away up there in a few places” commented Rachel after the race.
It wasn’t just Rachel who was on form over the weekend as brother Gee and team mate Marc Beaumont both qualified well on Saturday, 4th and 3rd respectively. With the course getting more and more beat up as the race went on the pair were in for a rough ride.
Gee was up first and he was chasing a great ride from Cameron Cole of New Zealand. Gee started strong, up at split one by 1.8 seconds and then pulling that out to 3.6 by split two but fading towards the bottom due to his arm injury sustained in Friday’s practice. He still managed to hold on to the top spot when he crossed the line 1.4 seconds up on Cole. Now was the time of Beaumont, a long term GT rider and previous winner on this course, Beaumont put in a strong ride clocking a 3:19.514 and slipped into 2nd spot behind Gee. With the top two seeds left on track the team was hoping for a double win but it wasn’t to be as Minnaar got stronger on the lower part of the course and edged Gee’s time by just 5 tenths of a second despite being a second back on the top two splits. Last man on the hill and favourite for the win was American Aaron Gwin, Gwin rode out of his skin and took the win in style, a good margin ahead of the rest of the field.
Marc and Gee’s performance was enough to concrete them in the top 5 in the overall with Gee sitting in 3rd spot while Marc is 87 points behind in 4th. The pair trail Gwin and Minnaar who are tied on points at the top while Rachel is up to 4th despite only riding the one event. This strong performance from the team meant that they also took the team prize from the event and also the overall lead in the team standings.
Moving on now the team head straight to the biggest World Cup of the year, Fort William in Scotland. Racing in front of the home crowd will hopefully give the team an extra boost as they aim to take more podium spots in Round three.
All photos: Sven Martin