Breathless. Perhaps the best way to describe the rollercoaster of racing that unfolded on the steep Andorran slopes this afternoon. A real classic that built to a mighty crescendo and saw two former winners return to past glory and clinch a well overdue return to the top step, chapeau Myriam and Troy.
The day began with the hills around Vallnord looking like they were losing a battle to hold the rain at bay with many of the jagged peaks engulfed in battleship grey, it held off for the most part although I’m sure the final few men sitting in the start gate would have been fearing the worst. Again. Once more Finn Iles and Matt Walker found themselves sat alongside each other in the time sheets but a 5 second margin is shear domination on Iles’ behalf who is really setting out his stall for his move upto elites next year, the top dogs better watch out as a new force will soon getting in the mix, along with Walker.
With Rachel Atherton finding herself further down the times after qualifying many people would have expected her to rocket back up the pile but it wasn’t to be, still a 4th place after coming back so quickly from a dislocated shoulder is highly commendable. The two biggest shocks of the weekend came in the shape of Marine Cabirou and Eleonora Farina who laid down two scorching runs to end up in 3rd and 5th respectively. The La Massana track takes no prisoners as Tracey Hannah found out to her peril; the women are really having to lay it on the line this year with the racing so close. That left Myriam Nicole to carve her way to a very popular victory at the home of Commencal, making that 4 different winners in the first 4 races.
The men’s race took over from where the women had left off. Tension, drama, and super tight racing. Many fell victim to the arduous terrain when they had gone green. Pierron, Brannigan, Fearon, Moir, all hero to zero in a matter of seconds. After a quick dose of carnage the racing really kicked off with Danny Hart lighting the timing screens ablaze in green, holding impossible lines and making the wildest shapes, Hart had found his feet in the 2017 season. Greg Minnaar then set about displacing him with a cunning run, the wise head of Minnaar finding a line towards the bottom no one else could have mustered up. With the rain increasing all the time it looked like he’d done the business. Could Troy really do it? He’d qualified fastest so many times only to be pipped at the post… We should never have doubted. A gripping run kept everyone guessing until the last seconds, the stopwatch never lies and with one last final flurry of green the finish line erupted.
Finn Iles waiting patiently for his turn to drop into the La Massana track.
Matt Walker knew he'd have to push every section harder than ever before to take down Iles this morning.
Kade Edwards is truly finding his feet now, another podium for Trek's junior who will now have to set his sights even higher.
Max Hartenstern back in the game for team Germany and the Cube Global Squad with a fifth place finish.
Matt Walker had a strong run and gave it his all but found himself nearly 5 back on Iles.
Finn Iles steering from the rear on his final practice run before laying down a commanding final time.
Iles making molehills out of mountains once again.
What else can we say about Finn Iles that hasn't been said already? He looks set to be a cat amongst the pigeons next year.
Junior bosses: Iles, Walker and Edwards.
Megan James. Remember the name - the girl smashing the junior field has a great mentor in Tracy Moseley and is one to watch for the future.
Tracey Hannah calm and collected, going through the pre-practice motions.
4th place for the fastest woman on earth, 8.6 seconds back, nursing her shoulder injury down the steeps.
Tahnee Seagrave flying down to the line for second place.
Tahnee Seagrave made great use of this morning's practice session to find her missing seconds.
A good turn around for Tahnee today after a sluggish qualifying, she'll be satisfied with 2nd.
It happens, it's racing. Tracey Hannah will have to regroup and go again in Lenzerheide.
Manon Carpenter was pipped to the podium by a mere 2 tenths, she'll have looked for more from this weekend.
Marine Cabirou compressing and nearly popping out of the berm before the final field section on route to her career best finish finish of 3rd.
What a weekend for Cabirou who backed up her sublime qualifying with an even better 3rd in finals. Ride of the weekend?
Two surprise new podium finishers this weekend, 5th place went to Italy's Eleonora Farina.
Healing vibes to Morgane Charre who took a nightmare tumble just short of the line.
Myriam Nicole sprints along the pedally top section in the golden morning light before a lengthy wait until her race run later that afternoon.
When you leave it all on the hill and get the repayment for your efforts.
Hannah takes the plunge down one of so many gnarly chutes that make up the Andorran course.
The battle scars on Tracey Hannah's kit say all you need to know, she leaves Vallnord with a slender 5 point advantage over Myriam Nicole.
Two juxtaposing emotions.
Vallnord elite women's snow dome.
4 from 4 in the women's category. Its been a while since we've had such great and wideopen racing.
The intense focus of Loic Bruni. Back on the bike and with a fine 4th place finish, he'll look to start rebuilding his momentum as he searches for that top step once more.
Alex Fayolle and Vallnord are a great combination, the round 1 winner finished in 11th and moved back inside the top 10 in the overall.
Connor Fearon had some serious game here in Andorra but came unexpectedly unstuck with just a couple of turns to go.
Aaron Gwin will be fired up to claw back lost ground in the overall next time out in Lenzerheide.
With such small margins separating the riders you've got to be sure to shave as close as you dare to any imposing trail side feature. Sik Mik matching his number board with a 14th place finish.
After a quiet start to the day, the Andorran crowds started to build towards the sea of fans we have become accustomed to at every WC round.
It's terrfiying to think that a rider with the skills of Sam Blenkinsop has to push so hard for 12th... Still that should at least get his plate down to size for Switzerland.
Brendan's no sissy on the steeps, but couldn't quite tame this beast, settling outside the top 20 for the weekend.
Eliot Jackson took a horrible fall getting cross-rutted entering the last field section, but was thankfully able to roll down the finish.
Anyone who saw the way Gaetan Vige rode the steep woods here last year to take the junior win would have picked him for a top result again here.... 10th place is a huge milestone in first year elite.
Vige has had little to show for his efforts so for at Scott, but that all turned around with this banger run.
Brendan Fairclough brought some time back towards the bottom but it wasn't enough and seen him outside the top 20.
Mark Wallace's time took some beating and more than a few crashed trying...
The Spaniard on a Saracen, Alex Marin, had some big support so close to home here in Andorra and it spurred him onto a personal best 8th place.
Alex Marin showed us his raw pace towards the end of last year and its great to see him matching that with new team Saracen.
Phil Atwil on the ride of his life, keeping it rubber side down all the way into the top ten.
George Brannigan could have pulled something special here after 6th and 9th at the first splits.
So many riders had the pace for a big result, Brannigan included. He went down like so many others, still he'll be buoyed by the pace he showed.
Moir was set for a solid top ten, but would take one of the gnarlier spills of the afternoon, thankfully finishing his run and salvaging enough points to hold on to 5th in the overall.
Sik Mik loves hella steep 'n' dry courses like this, but came in 11.6 seconds shy of the top step this time for 14th.
2.5 seconds back for Gwin on a track so steep it seemed tough for him to really shine and attack with the venom he usually brings to finals.
Not the wonder run of World Champs 2015 for Loic Bruni, but a banger none the less...
An insane run, on the edge all the way this afternoon out of the Redcar Rocket himself
Back in the hot seat and back on the box.
Nervous moments in the hot seat. Loic Bruni and Danny Hart's runs couldn't have been more polar opposite in terms of riding style but they found themselves stuck together on the results sheet.
Loris Vergier fully pitted hitting the G-out berm down to the line.
Vergier just missed the podium by a spot, but interestingly was still nearly 4 seconds behind the pack.
The number one so nearly came out on top once again, but was denied by 0.2 of a second.
It looked like Greg Minnaar had it in the bag, and judging by his reaction he thought so too.
Troy Brosnan had been in this position before last year in Andorra only for the rain to ruin his chances. It almost looked liked a repeat might be on the cards but at the end of the day the fastest man on the hill one.
Minnaar picking his favourite fans out of the crowd waiting for Troy to take his swing.
After qualifying in pole position the rain salted Brosnan's game here last season, well not this time.
Toe to toe racing the whole way down but ultimately Troy Brosnan edged it by a whole two tenths...
Troy Brosnan about to be swarmed by media and fans.
Flower power; Brosnan, Minnaar and Hart.
Back in the mix, pope super Bruni.
Sharing is caring for the world's fastest here in La Massana.
Greg Minnaar will have been annoyed at missing out on the top step by so little but it's not all bad. He extended his lead in the overall and now heads to Lenzerheide next weekend where he won 2 years ago.
Zut alors! How it stings.
0.22 takes it.