So this was it! After a World Cup season of high drama, the team was in a commanding position heading to Meribel in France for the final race on the World Cup calendar. Manon fighting for the Series title and the guys shooting for the podium, their last chance saloon for the 2014 season.
Meribel is situated south of Geneva, a ski resort in the Tarentaise Valley in the French Alps, best known for the 1992 Winter Olympics… Well that is until 2014 when the UCI World Cup arrived in town and put on the best show the World Cup has seen for quite some time. Riders and fans alike were treated to a banger of a track and racing to match it.
Starting well up the mountain with a view of the surrounding three valleys, riders had to keep their eyes on the job. The track headed straight into high speed and a small rocky outcrop, before a road gap and pinball corners in the open. Then the riders were sent into the woods for the first time for rocks, roots, loamy soil and a couple of minutes of smiles. Finally, from the finish area spectators could see riders shoot out the tree line and into a series of high-speed natural turns on the piste. The last of which was followed by a kicker that launched them down the finish straight and towards the line. Words don’t do it justice but thankfully we have Laurence’s awesome shots to take care of that problem!
So Manon, after her most successful World Cup campaign to date found herself with the number one board, the leaders jersey and two more timed runs to collect enough points to hold onto it all for game, set and match! Easier said than done with the pressure on and with such a demanding track. We knew how many points she needed and what position she needed to finish in but the only way to approach this one was to go for the win, to give it every bit of concentration and focus that she had for every other round. The plan was to look after the race and the series title would take care of itself.
Qualifying time and Manon looked to have things under control with a second place ride - exactly what she needed to start her weekend of racing. Next up then the lads; on pace all year long we have been proud of how they have improved and worked hard to find those tenths of a second that make the difference between 1st and 10th place. It really has become that tight, which makes for an exciting and exhausting race day for those nervously waiting at the bottom of the hill! Sam put in a solid top-twenty performance despite not quite finding his groove and riding a little tight towards the bottom of the hill, good points though and something to build on for his final race run.
Matt had found the Meribel track to his liking, building in confidence throughout practice he was happy with the bike, happy with his lines and ready to attack this one like… well like it was the last World Cup of the season I guess! He did that in style taking the lead and as the last qualifier crossed the line the realization struck, he was fastest qualifier and would be last man on the hill come the finals. A new pressure he was looking forward to meeting head on.
With the weather changing mid week, the track had received what appeared to be the perfect blend of rain and sun. So there we were, race day and one last chance to put it all together on a track which would crown worthy winners with a sunshine and alpine mountain back drop - this is downhill racing as good as it gets.
Manon as always, first to go for the team and this one would set the tone for the day. She started her run well and split times showed she was right on the pace. Riding strong for most of the track she looked on form only easing back the pace slightly towards the bottom of the track as her mind took over and thoughts of the overall title kicked in along with getting her and the bike to the line in good shape. What a relief when she crossed the line in second place just behind ‘local’ French girl Emmeline Ragot. This was it, enough to take the title of World Cup Champion and tick off a major career goal. A fantastic achievement for Manon, for the team and everyone who puts so much hard work into making the team what it is.
“It feels amazing! Not really sunk in. Starting the year I pinpointed a couple of World Cup races I wanted to win, the overall was not my main focus but as the year has progressed I realised there was a chance and it’s fantastic to have made it happen here today. I was riding ok at the top and then eased off just a little in the fast open turns, just to be safe, a mistake there could have cost me too much time, I just wanted to get down and finish the job off… initially it was a feeling of relief!”
Sam next then and he was looking awesome on the hill. His top split was on the money and he was flying through the woods. He crossed the line into a top ten position and had to wait and see how his time would hold up. Times were tight as ever and riders were slotting either side of him as the race rolled on and his final 18th position didn’t do his ride or his season justice. He has had a great year though with some awesome top ten rides at the start of the season showing he has the speed and the skill to hang with the best on race day. A 13th place overall in the World Cup is something most riders could only dream of… Great work from Sam and a certain World Championships are waiting for him next week to have one last attack for the podium!
“I loved the track and felt I was riding well in practice. I’m disappointed with my result, I felt I rode a little tight; I struggled to relax and push on in the lower sections of the track. My time was ok but these days you have to be right on it, top to bottom or the slightest mistake or moment can cost you five, six places. I’m confident going into World Champs, that I can put in another top ten ride to finish the season off right…”
So there we were, the whole mountain full of people looking at one man left at the top of the hill, our man! Matt came out the start gate and it was clear he meant business, tight lines, good speed and only 0.9 seconds off the lead at split one. Through the woods he looked quick, again tight lines and carrying speed where others had faltered and looking strong. Split two told the story, he was up. Fastest man to that point with just the fast grass turns and one short wood section to go, he pushed on still looking strong and sprinted for the line. An awesome ride into second place behind Sam Hill by a teasingly close 0.3 of a second… Wow, the first men’s World Cup podium for the team and for the Saracen Myst, a great day for everyone at Madison and Saracen who has worked so hard to develop the bike and support the team to where it is now. What better way to cap off the 2014 World Cup season.
"It feels awesome, it’s a little strange as to begin with I was disappointed, I saw the green light of fastest at split two, as I came towards the line and went into second place, it was so close, 0.3 seconds….but then everyone was going nuts and the realization sunk in, my best result in a World Cup, the podium I have been chasing and a big chunk of points to move me into 6th overall. Not a bad day for me and the team. I felt great, the bike was awesome… I can’t wait for World Champs now.”
So that’s it, a World Cup overall title in the Women’s category, a World Cup podium in the Men’s category and the Madison Saracen Team in third place in the team competition, which was split by only seven points between first and third. A tally of results we can be proud of but also that we can improve and work on through the winter. It’s a stepping stone but a big one, so I think we can sit here for just a while and celebrate a fantastic World Cup season for the team.
Next up for the team is the World Championships, the big one for the rainbow jersey. An exciting prospect as we head to Hafjell in Norway. Watch this space…