As the action heated up in California, here are five things we noticed from behind the tape.
For the second time this year we’ve had a race described as ‘the closest ever’. This time Sam Hill was on the losing end of it as Richie Rude beat him to the line by just 0.8 seconds. This was the second winning margin of less than a second this year, with Ed Masters claiming victory in Les Orres in July by 0.94.
But was Northstar really closer? Les Orres was run over a 40-minute span, compared to the 26 minutes in Northstar. This may be splitting hairs but percentage-wise, Ed Masters won in Les Orres by 0.04%, whereas Richie in Northstar won by 0.05%, so while Northstar was closer in terms of raw time, Les Orres was probably closer over the course of the race as a whole. One thing is for certain though, this season has been the closest ever and an absolute joy to follow.
Before Northstar, Isabeau Courdurier had won every race and every Queen Stage of 2019, giving her the perfect score of 3240 points. She came away from Northstar with another race win but Noga Korem became the first woman to take points off Courdurier all year as she claimed victory on the Queen Stage.
If we're comparing apples to apples, Courdurier can, and probably will, still match Cecile Ravanel's season-long winning streak in Zermatt at the end of September but she can now no longer go one better and take every Queen stage too.
With Ed Masters out with a broken wrist, all eyes now turn to Florian Nicolai and Sam Hill who are separated by just 60 points with one round remaining. The momentum is currently with Sam Hill, who leaves North America with two-second place finishes, while Flo has treaded water with a 9th and a 13th. However, Zermatt sees a return to European high mountains, where Nicolai outscored Hill earlier in the year, if you combine the points of Val di Fassa and Les Orres.
So what does it mean in terms of numbers? Well, if Sam wins, Florian will have to finish 2nd; if Sam finishes 2nd, Florian will have to finish 5th; if Sam finishes 3rd, Flo will have to finish 8th and then if Sam finishes any lower than 3rd, Florian just has to finish within 6 places of him. Let's also not forget the Queen stage though, if either rider wins that then the overall picture will swing wildly in that rider's favor.
Mitch Ropelato once again proved he's one of the best all-round bike riders on the planet as he took 3rd and his first-ever EWS podium in Northstar. The result comes just a week after claiming the King of Crankworx title in Whistler where he also won Speed and Style, Dual Slalom and the Garbanzo Downhill. Add to this his all-round bike handling skills, insane style and famed car park jibs, and it all results in Mitch being the sort of rider we all aspire to be. In the past, Mitch seemed to struggle to find his niche in mountain biking but it turns out just doing everything well and having a good time while doing it works out just fine.