With three rounds of the World Cup done and dusted it's time to take a look at where the riders and teams stand. PMB seems like an entirely different season, while VDS and Fort Bill happened in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden, teams are gearing up for MSA, here's a look at where the series stands...
It's fair to say that everyone expected Aaron Gwin to come into this season in the same form as last year, but the question that seemed most common lay at the feet of the other riders. Who can step it up to match Gwin's speed? Danny Hart's performance at the World Championships in Champery had most believing that the miniscule Brit had it in him, but the young rider's eagerness got the best of him at round one. As much as we've seen a changing of the guard over the past few seasons, it seems as though this year there has been a return to form for some of the more experienced riders. Sam Hill has been on a tear, moving his way closer and closer to the top step with each round, Gee has managed to keep his tires inflated and his head cool, and Minnaar has already bagged a hometown victory for the season. Even the notorious Cedric Gracia put in a top 10 at PMB. After round one, the ball was certainly in Gwin's court, and the young guns had some redemption at hand. Watch the top runs from PMB here.
Sweet hometown victory...Greg Minnaar mobbed by fans.
After a huge break, enough time for most riders to compete in several national level races, the World Cup resumed in Val di Sol two weeks ago. VDS has always provided plenty of drama, heartbreak and excitement; from Sam Hill's massive washout and Peaty's devastating second place at World's to Danny Hart's 2011 drift, there's never a shortage of memorable moments in Italy. This year, it was the American stallion who recaptured the attention of the DH world by absolutely crushing both qualifying and finals. Gwin's victory by a margin of 8 seconds ranks up there among the most dominating victories ever. He was visibly faster on track than anyone else. His calm style often masks the raw speed that he carries, but it was clear at VDS that Gwin had found another gear. Here, too, we saw a selection of more experienced riders do well, Cam Cole being the youngest in the top 5 at 24 years of age. After a fairly disappointing 18th in RSA, Marc Beaumont managed to find his pace in Italy on a track where he has won before, and Gee and Greg again graced the podium, continuing their race for the overall with Gwin. Danny Hart returned to form, looking calm and relatively under control, placing 6th and setting himself up well for Fort William. Sam Hill's sneaky rise continued, finishing 7th and heading to one of the tracks that he's won World Champs on (edit, by 0.64 over Fabien Barel). The team's packed up immediately after the racing was done and began to prepare for the race that is always a fan and racer favourite.
This past weekend showed us a formula that we haven't seen much of over the past few years. Gwin's crash in qualifying left him back in the pack for finals and sitting in the hot seat for a coon's age. This was unfamiliar territory for Gwin, who usually makes a point of qualifying high; no head-games here. As the riders came down, one by one, the splits were a tell tale sign. Not until Danny Hart was on track did someone best Gwin's first split. Unfortunately Danny couldn't hold on, finishing a scant 0.8 seconds behind the reigning World Cup champion. Greg Minnaar ventured into mechanical territory for the first time in a long time, while Gee Atherton claimed the wet weather took him by surprise. Still, a respectable 3rd place for Gee on home soil. Speaking of which, the biggest story of Fort William was arguably the amazing success of British riders. 6 of the top 9 finishers were hometown favourites; maybe it was the crowd, maybe the comfort factor, but Bryceland, Joe Smith, Sam Dale and Matt Simmonds all managed to bag the top 10 despite their struggles of late. Fort William can be seen as the resurgence of the youth movement, and confidence is a huge factor for the less experience riders...perhaps we'll see a very different podium at Mont Saint Anne on the 24th? Until then, the CORRECTED overall points race is as follows...
Rob Warner nearly lost his wheaties when he saw Gwin's Fort Bill split...
1. Aaron Gwin - 650
2.Greg Minnaar - 565
3. Gee Atherton - 495
4. Danny Hart - 355
5. Sam Hill 334
6. Steve Smith 302
7. Marc Beaumont - 293
8. Mick Hannah - 288
9. Josh Bryceland - 257
10. Remi Thirion - 237
Watch the full replay of Fort William here courtesy of RedBull, and get ready for an awesome World Cup season. It's just getting good folks...
In case you need a refresher on what MSA brings to the table, check out the awesome TriRide vid from last year and get stoked.
That is not the 2012 season top ten standings....FYI
Below is Top Ten after Fort William:
1 GWIN Aaron USA TREK WORLD RACING 650
2 MINNAAR Greg RSA SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE 565
3 ATHERTON Gee GBR GT FACTORY RACING 495
4 HART Danny GBR GIANT FACTORY OFF-ROAD TEAM 355
5 HILL Samuel AUS MONSTER ENERGY-SPECIALIZED 334
6 SMITH Steve CAN DEVINCI GLOBAL RACING 302
7 BEAUMONT Marc GBR GT FACTORY RACING 293
8 HANNAH Michael AUS HUTCHINSON UNITED RIDE 288
9 BRYCELAND Josh GBR SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE 257
10 THIRION Rémi FRA LABYRINTH SHIMANO RACING TEAM 237