After a seven-week lay off we were back on the World Cup campaign and this time it was in Quebec, Canada, at the infamous Mt St Anne track, for an historic 24th consecutive year of World Cup or World Championships racing at the venue. The team were raring to go after starting the season off well, leading the team overall and Manon with the women’s leaders jersey to defend, on one of the roughest, toughest tracks on the World Cup circuit.
The track is a long one at just under five minutes for the fastest girls and a little over four minutes for the top guys. Coming out of a roller coaster start ramp and immediately hitting high speeds, before heading to a piste prepared with fast flowing turns that get rutted up with the soft ‘St Anne dirt. This mixed in with a few new man made rock sections, which quickly blend into the natural terrain, which is dirt, rocks and a few roots thrown in, further down the hill. The mid section of the track is top speed, flat out touching up to 60km/h before heading into the toughest rocky outcrop on the track, hidden away in the woods. This one has claimed a few victims in the past and would again over the weekend. A final sprint and jumps down to the finish and it’s all over, with the bitter sweet souvenir of aching arms and legs to remind you, you’ve just ridden the toughest track on the World Cup circuit.
Weather was typical, just as you thought you were in for a scorching day, late afternoon down pours would change the horizon and the track for the rest of the day. With many technical sections hidden in the woods, they don’t dry up, hidden from the sun and this all adds to the drama. As the track dries in some places but not others, it’s a conflict between talent and tyre choice and you just have to hope you have it sorted for race day.
Qualifying day then and Manon, still confident in her form and happy with practice time on the hill, was keen as ever to keep adding points to her series tally, setting off first as series leader, she again set a time that was never bettered, sitting in 1st place by just over 4 seconds after the last girl crossed the line.
The guys up next in qualifying and Sam was first to go, followed straight away by Matt, as it turned out, Matt would come into view first and storm into a fantastic 5th place, setting his standards on a podium spot for Saturday. Sam lost air from his back tyre and was forced to nurse his bike to the finish, protected as a top twenty rider, he would live to fight another day.
Kazuki next and he had been looking great on the track all week in practice. Despite nursing a knee injury picked up in Leogang, he gave it all he could and crossed the line into 43rd position, hoping it would be enough. Unfortunately he was just outside a top 80 qualifying time in the end and had to settle for a valuable week of experience, from his first time trying to tame the Mt St Anne hill.
Finals' day comes around fast on the triple-header World Cup weekends, with XC taking the Sunday slot and DH on a Saturday. Weather looked to have finally settled on sunshine all day and everyone was looking forward to seeing a fair battle. The women’s race was hotting up early, with young Brit Tahnée Seagrave setting the early pace and holding onto the top slot, until Rachel Atherton eclipsed her time by some fifteen seconds. Ragot up next and her experience and determination showed, as she crossed the line just five hundredths of a second back, going into second place. Eyes to the big screen once more then as Manon left the start hut. Her first split was down by four seconds and she had a lot of work to do. As the riders tire, the hill gets more technical but this suited Manon’s fitness and skill well. Surprising everyone she hit the second split just two tenths of a second off the pace. Powering on, she cleared the final jumps and sprinted for the line, taking more time out of the rest in the last section she took the win by almost a second, a fantastic ride and maximum points for another World Cup weekend.
– “I struggled to get into my rhythm at the top but once I got through the tricky middle woods I just focused and went for it. I could see red on the timing board as I headed to the finish (showing down on time for the last split) and just put my head down and went for it. I’m so pleased to take this one, on the toughest track of the year…
Where fortune seemed to favour Manon, it seemed to leave Sam behind at this race. With a number of issues in practice and a problem in qualifying, he just wanted to get a clean run at the hill and prove what he could do. His first split was 15th fastest and we all know he comes strong towards the end, especially on the longer tracks. Sadly he was left thinking ‘what if’ as a puncture meant he struggled to control the bike through the woods and went down fighting, taking a nasty dive where a number of top riders had fallen victim during the week. Typically upbeat though, Sam looks immediately to Windham and knows the form and strength will follow him there.
Last man on the hill for the team then was Matt, joined by just four of the other fastest men in the World. He looked smooth and neat through the top sections of the track, only losing a little time in a corner or two as he made his way to the mid way point. Just three seconds off the lead at the split, he continued on in good form. Finishing his run off strong, he crossed the line and went into 5th eventually taking another awesome World Cup top ten place, with 8th and moving up the series leader board into 11th. He is looking to finish the season off in style.
Talking of finishing off in style… we held onto the World Cup team overall lead, by the skin of our teeth, which means we carry the pride of the yellow leaders number boards for another race.
No rest for the wicked, as we jump in the trucks and head straight for the next round of the World Cup, in Windham, New York state. Just a short seven-hour drive south then. Things are really getting exciting now with just two rounds to go. Don’t blink!