A mix of familiar and new faces graced the downhill podium in round two of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Fort William.
While Fort William celebrated its tenth anniversary of competition, Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) celebrated her fifth victory in seven years at the Scottish venue.
Rachel Atherton (Commencal) made it a 1-2 British day for the women, with France taking the rest of the top-5 spots. Moseley's second consecutive win gives her a significant 170 point lead over second ranked Floriane Pugin (Scott 11) in the overall rankings.
"It's pretty amazing. To come here as World Champion is pretty special, but to come here as World Champion and manage to win, it's just awesome," commented Moseley. "The crowd is amazing, which makes it such a pleasure to ride and to push harder and harder. It means a lot to win here, to win five times here ... I'm happy. I really pushed, I knew Rach [Atherton] was going to be tough; every time you race her, you know she’s going to be hard to beat. It's good to have another British girl to push me. Guaranteed, it meant the crowd was going to get a British win one way or another."
While Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took the win in round two for the men, it was the young riders who finished second and third - Danny Hart (Giant) and Brook MacDonald (MS Evil Racing) - who were the real story of the day, signalling the arrival of the next generation of downhillers. Minnaar's win, coupled with round one winner Aaron Gwin's (Trek World Racing) fifth place, put the South African into the leader's jersey for the overall standings.
Starting 48th (out of 81), MacDonald absolutely nailed the pedalling bottom half of the course, to finish a staggering 5.643 seconds ahead of the next best rider at the time. The young New Zealand rider, who won't turn 20 until November, was the Juniors World Champion in 2009, but this ride put him in a whole new league.
As rider after rider came down, none could surpass his time. It wasn't until Minnaar, a two-time winner at Fort William, and fourth from last to start, came down that MacDonald was finally dislodged from the lead. The South African, a prodigy himself when he won his world title in 2003, was eighth fastest at the top split, and continued to improve as the course went on, to knock nearly two seconds off MacDonald's incredible run. Hart, starting just after Minnaar and only a month older than MacDonald, pushed the Kiwi down to third by 0.65 seconds. The final two starters - Gee Atherton (Commencal) and World Cup leader Gwin - slotted in to fourth and fifth respectively after their runs.
"It was tough today," admitted Minnaar. "I was really nervous. I didn't think I had it today. In yesterday's qualifying, I was behind, and I wasn't sure I could find the time. [Brook] MacDonald had a great ride, but I'm stoked to be on top ... it's just an awesome day. I'm speechless."
In the four-cross final on Saturday, Anneke Beerten (Milka-Trek) finally won at Fort William for the first time in her career. Swiss rider Roger Rinderknecht was the surprise winner of a crash-filled men's final. Beerten and Jared Graves (Yeti-Fox Shox) continue to lead the overall series standings.
The redesigned course proved to be a winner, with lots of passing and lead changes through the races. The rock garden at the halfway point proved to be a key factor, as numerous riders lost speed or crashed after choosing the wrong line.
Elite Women: first win in Fort William for Anneke Beerten
The women's competition lost one rider before the competition had even started, with British rider Katy Curd breaking her arm in Downhill training earlier in the day. Except for top qualifier Melissa Buhl (USA) all of the top qualifiers moved on to the final, with the new British sensation Joey Gough joining Beerten along with Lucia Oetjen (SUI) and Celine Gros (Morzine-Avoriaz/Haute-Savoie).
The amazingly fast Gough took the holeshot from Beerten, but the highly experienced Dutch rider just bided her time, cutting inside of Gough on the corner just before the rock garden to take the lead and then hold it to the line. Oetjen took third, ahead of Gros.
"It's unbelievable, I've been coming here so many years, and I've never won," exclaimed Beerten. "They made some changes to the track, and I really like the new track. To finally win in Fort William ... I was really working hard to get this one, and now I've finally got it."
Beerten now has a commanding lead, with 200 points to the 90 of both Oetjen and Gros.
Elite Men: Surprise win for Rinderknecht
The men's race initially looked to be a replay of what we have seen over and over again: Graves jumping away from his rivals out of the start gate and cruising to the finish line. But Graves had an uncharacteristic slow start in his semi-final, and did not make it to the final round, winning the small final for fifth place.
In the final, Joost Wichman (RSP 4 Cross) took the lead, and appeared to be well in control, ahead of Rinderknecht and World Champion Thomas Slavik (RSP 4 Cross) as he entered the rock garden. However, he hit the bottom of the rock garden front wheel first, somersaulting over the bars. Even worse, his bike shot sideways across the course, behind Rinderknecht but in front of his team mate Slavik, taking the World Champion out as well.
Rinderknecht easily cruised in for the win, followed by a disbelieving David Graf (SUI) while the two RSP riders slowly picked themselves up and limped across the line.
"It feels amazing, to win here," commented Rinderknecht. "My last win, last year in Val di Sole (ITA) was totally different. I won qualifying, and went into the race as one of the favourites. This time, I had a bad crash in practice and hurt my foot pretty bad, so I took it easy in qualifying and only qualified sixteenth. I really didn't know what to expect. I tried to black out the pain, and not think about it. But it worked out. Joost got a little bit unlucky at the end with a crash when he was leading, but luck was on my side this time. I'm really stoked."
Despite finishing fifth, Graves still leads the men's standings, with 175 points, followed by Rinderknecht and Graf tied at 150, and Prokop a further 10 points back.