Bryceland finishes second despite breaking his foot
Gee Atherton (Great Britain) on his way to winning the 2014 downhill world championships
Gee Atherton gave Great Britain its second downhill world title of the day at the 2014 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Hafjell, Norway on Sunday afternoon. Another Brit, Josh Bryceland managed to finish second despite breaking his foot during his run. Troy Brosnan (Australia) was third. The top three riders were within 0.566 seconds of each other on what was a dramatic crash- and mechanical-filled kind of a day.
"It's an incredible feeling to be back in the rainbow stripes," said Atherton as he celebrated his second elite downhill world title. "2008 was a long time ago. It's been awhile, but winning the world champs is never something you stop wanting, and I never stopped working toward it."
Bryn Atkinson (Australia) set one of the early fast times with a 3:29.973, setting him up for an extended stay in the hot seat.
The 70th man down the mountain, Jack Moir (Australia) bettered Atkinson's time to record a 3:27.600, and another eight riders later, Remi Thiron (France) took over after a super smooth run ending in 3:26.854 and making him the first man to break 3:27.
Soon after, the favorites started rolling down the mountain and many of them saw their chances evaporate when they crashed, including George Brannigan (New Zealand) and Mick Hannah (Australia). Both appeared to be on fire until their crashes.
Andrew Neethling, a previous podium finisher in Hafjell at the World Cup, was also having a good run, but he later broke his chain.
Neko Mullaly (United States) was the next man down the mountain and with his 3:25.979, he took over the hot seat. What was especially impressive was that he did nearly all of the run without a chain. With or without a chain, it was by far the American's best international performance.
"Out of the start ramp, I broke my chain during the first gear shift. I rode my bike well aside from that and I guess that's what did it," said Mulally. "I couldn't believe it was green when I came across the finish." His time was good enough for fourth on the day.
Other favorites also crashed including a spectacular endo from former world champion Sam Hill (Australia) and a crash by another former world champion Danny Hart (Great Britain).
Neither Aaron Gwin (United States), Loic Bruni (France) nor Matthew Simmonds (Great Britain) were fast enough to medal.
Defending world champion Greg Minnaar (South Africa) was having a good run until he flatted and crashed.
The fourth to last man down the mountain was Atherton. He dabbed a foot during his run, but set the fastest time of 3:23.800 and then waited to see if it would hold up.
"My run was ok, but it was messy," said Atherton. "There were some mistakes out there, but it's that kind of track. You have to expect things to change. I wasn't pleased with the run, but I knew I'd made it to the bottom and that's all you can ask for really."
"At the time, I thought it wasn't good enough for the gold. I thought I'd blown it and made too many mistakes. These days the riders are going so fast you can't make any mistakes because they are won by tenths or hundredths of tha second."
Next up, Sam Blenkinsop (New Zealand) pedalled as he flew through the air and did his run generally in high style, but wasn't fast enough to make the podium.
Then, Troy Brosnan (Australia), a former junior world champion, clocked a 3:24.335 and moved into second place.
Then all eyes were on the last man down the mountain, Josh Bryceland (Great Britain). He was coming off a fantastic season, including a World Cup overall win. He was the fastest at the first two splits and looked to be having a great run, that is until he came down too late on one jump in the final 200m. He landed so hard that his foot slammed into the pedal and was broken.
Startled and confused by what happened, Bryceland somehow managed to keep it upright and finish the race fast enough to earn the silver medal and bump Brosnan to third.
"I didn't know I'd won it today literally until the last man was down. It was a close call," said Atherton. "It shows you how dangerous the sport is and how much riders are putting on the line these days."
Brosnan said, "I think the world champs is always a special race. Everyone steps their game up and pushes hard. I realized that and I saw the times the guys were putting in all week, and I knew I had to keep pushing to find better lines and go faster and faster."
"The day was good. I was feeling pretty nervous but also wanted to get out there and do my best. I had to do my own race and see where that put me. To get third is a break-out year for me. It will be good to come back next year and get the win."
The usual post-race celebrations were muted as Bryceland was carried off the course by teammates since he couldn't walk on his injured foot. The UCI later reported that he was taken immediately to the hospital and would be undergoing surgery, possibly for a fractured metatarsal and one or more dislocations.
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Great Britain sweeps all three podium spots
Manon Carpenter (Great Britain) on her way to winning the elite women's downhill world championship in Norway
Great Britiain swept the podium at the elite women's downhill world championship in Hafjell, Norway on Sunday. 2014 World Cup overall champion Manon Carpenter clinched the title ahead of defending champion and top favorite Rachel Atherton. Tahnee Seagrave finished third.
"I didn't expect it to be honest. I struggled to go fast enough all week," said Carpenter. "I like the course, but seeing the other girls go through the rock garden was impressive. They were not using brakes, and I was trying to figure out how to do that."
"I wanted to have a perfect run. It was close, but I had almost resigned myself to coming second and then I finished and won the world championships."
As the 26 starters made their way down the mountain on an overcast, chilly day, rider after rider set a new fast time.
Vaea Verbeeck's 4:04:537 was the one that stuck the longest, but the Canadian was eventually bumped from the hot seat by American Jill Kintner, who rode more than 7.6 seconds faster and became the first woman to go sub-three minutes.
Then Seagrave clocked a 3:52.870, another 4.8 seconds faster than Kintner.
French woman Myriam Nicole was next down the mountain, but a crash slowed her progress. Tracy Hannah's time wasn't fast enough to get her a medal.
Carpenter rode flawlessly in her run, stopping the clock in 3:49.400 and the crowd awaited the defending world champ Atherton.
"When I got to the bottom, I figured that if Rachel beat me, it was fair play. I had almost a perfect run," said Carpenter. "I just managed to sneak it, but I had thought I would miss out by a tiny bit."
There was to be no third world title for Atherton. While she was ahead for much of the run, she lost ground on the lower section, finishing just 0.088 seconds slower than Carpenter.
"The racing in the world championships is special, but second place is not a nice position for me to finish," said Atherton. "I had a good run but I wasn't very confident the whole way down. I thought I was off pace. I hit a rock, making a little mistake, near the end. You can't afford to make any mistakes any more, but it's special to stand on the podium with three British girls."
Another top favorite, who would have been the last starter, Emmeline Ragot (France) did not start after breaking her wrist while training the previous day.
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