Team CRC/Nukeproof Wraps Up 2013 DH World Cup at Leogang
MTB - Leogang, Austria
Gee Atherton and Steve Smith were battling for first and the 2013 overall title. Greg Minnaar, the recently crowned World Champion for the second year running, was sitting third but within grasp of our very own Sam Hill, and Danny Hart sat right behind Sam in fifth for the last podium overall position. Then the rest of the top 10 were also really close in points.
The Leogang track has been similar for a good few years now with a mixture of bike park sections with jumps to steep wooded technical sections. In the past there had been a few complaints from the top riders saying the track had become a little too easy for a World Cup, so the course designers changed up a few sections and I think they did a good job creating some sections that the riders were definitely having a few problems with during practice, especially when the track was wet.
Matt Simmonds has had a really strong season for the team and only the first round in Fort William where Matt had mechanicals in both the qualification and finals getting no points had kept him back from the best World Cup overall of his career to date. Matt was still sitting in the top 20 and looking for another great result to end a great season.
Joe Smith has also been riding really well all season with a second place at the British Championships and podiums at nearly all the British rounds. Joe started off his World Cup campaign strongly with a 13th place at Fort William, but then a few niggling injuries and big crashes at the rest of the World Cups, Joe just hasn't met his potential or been able to get the results he is capable of. So this last race was one Joe was keen to get a result at.
Practice on Friday started off well for the team and all three of them were looking fast straight away. Then unfortunately disaster struck for Sam Hill when practising an easy bike park section with jumps that you have to keep low on as they are not really designed for the fastest riders in the world. The wind had got up and blew Sam's front wheel over one of the jumps and he had no choice but to put his left leg out to stop himself crashing at high speed. The impact on Sam's leg was too much and immediate severe pain indicated that he had done some serious damage. When I got back down to the pits to see how he was I could tell he was in a lot of pain and not looking good. Sam doesn't really complain and is really tough so I knew it wasn't looking too good for the five-time World Champ!
So into the van and off to the local hospital with Sam and his dad who had come to the last two races to support his son. It turned out Sam had dislocated part of his knee and damaged his meniscus. The doctor manipulated Sam’s knee back into position with a pop and Sam nearly flying out of the bed in pain, but straight away Sam could then bend his knee and put a little bit of weight on it. The doctor told Sam he would need a bit of surgery when he gets back to Australia though to repair his meniscus. This is the same knee Sam already has an elastic band in which replaced his ACL ligament.
Knowing that his overall position was on the line Sam really wanted to be able to race and so he decided to roll through the gate in qualifications to still have a chance in Sunday’s finals. As a protected top 20 rider as long as you start the race (breaking the beam at the start) Sam would still be able to race in the finals.
Matt Simmonds and Joe Smith both had a solid qualifying run placing 16th and 30th, respectively, putting them in a good place for Sunday’s final. Unfortunately Sam's knee just got worse and more swollen and come Sunday morning Sam could hardly bend his knee making it impossible for him to be able to race down the mountain. He was super disappointed but had no choice but to sit out and just watch. Both Greg Minnaar and Danny Hart who were sitting either side of Sam in the points third and fifth, both sustained injuries and were unable to start in Sunday's race. Pretty crazy how a track that was not too difficult took out three of the top five overall contenders!
Sunday's downhill race came along and the sun was out drying the track and making it super fast for the finals. Sam Hill and myself stood in the finish area to cheer on Matt and Joe and all Sam could do was sit and watch how many riders would overtake him in points for the overall positions.
Joe Smith looked super fast and aggressive on the big screen but when he crossed the line his time just didn't reflect how good he was riding. With a time of 3:37 it was only good enough for 42nd place and Joe was hugely disappointed not to finish off on a result we all know he is capable of. It has been a difficult season for Joe and he has battled though with injuries and not given up. So well done mate we are all proud of you.
Matt Simmonds was desperate for a podium finish at this last race. Coming off a fifth place at the World Championships and eighth last week in Norway, Matt wanted more. He came out the start strong and looked super fast and smooth all the way down, but maybe just not pushing hard enough or riding on the edge enough. Matt finished with a time of 3.32 which was good enough for 17th.
Another great result but not what Matt wanted, so he was a little disappointed but super focussed for next year. Matt ended up 18th overall in the World Cup rankings even with his terrible start at Fort William. Congrats on a great season Matt.
The race came down to the wire for the 2013 overall champion. Frenchman Loic Bruni put down an amazing time to finish second, a career best result at only 19 years old. But the race was on between Gee Atherton and Steve Smith. Gee had what looked like a super fast solid run but was only fast enough for fourth. Then he had to sit and wait to watch the last man on the mountain - Steve Smith.
It didn't matter what position Steve finished as long as it was top three; he just had to beat Gee to take the overall title. Steve shot out of the gate and ripped the track apart, obviously not affected by the pressure and smashed out his third World Cup win in a row and snatching the overall World Cup title away from Gee Atherton at the last race! The crowd went wild and it was great to see another legend of the sport take his first overall WC title. Well done Stevie!
Even though it was a bit disappointing for us as a team at the last race, on the whole we have had the best year to date as a team. It has been so much fun this season and great having Sam Hill as part of the team. Sam has been back up to speed with the fastest racers in the world and challenging for the wins. He eventually finished up in eighth position overall this year but with two third place finishes it has been so good for us and made him hungrier than ever, fueling his fire for 2014 to fight for the number one position. Matt Simmonds' fifth place finish at the World Championships was another highlight of the year and we have all got on really well and had a blast.
We would like to thank all our great sponsors for the support and the best equipment. We are already looking forward to 2014 to come out faster and stronger than ever.
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