2007 was the first time Champery appeared on the World Cup circuit and it was a rude awakening for the riders. Consistently steeper than any World Cup track before or since, riders were complaining that the track walk was too hard, nevermind the race itself. In fact, it was probably one of the most action-packed track walks ever as Greg Minnaar took a slip and tweaked his shoulder before his feet had touched a pair of pedals. The race also marked the return of Nico Vouilloz after 5 years away from the circuit racing rally cars, but it would be a different legend of the sport that would steal all the headlines.
First practice rolled around and it was a chaotic affair. Stories went around the pits of riders raiding the local shops for a pair of Five Tens and swapping back to flat pedals, such was the severity of the track they found in front of them. Crashing was the norm and, with no easy way down the mountain, the rescue helicopter was in near-constant use ferrying riders to the nearby hospital. Thankfully there was catch netting lining the course practically top to bottom, preventing it from getting any worse. The session was best documented by Alex Rankin and Dirt in Earthed 5, check out also Steve Jones doing Cathrovision before it was cool:
In qualifying, Sam Hill was in the groove, 15 seconds faster than second-placed Mickael Pascal. It seemed like Sam had found another one of those tracks like Schladming and Val di Sole where he was simply on a different level to the rest of the field. There was one result that flew well under the radar though, and that was Matti Lehikoinen down in 40th. He would later admit that he stopped for 20 seconds on track having noticed storms rolling through the valley mid-way through the afternoon each day. He knew that by qualifying slower he would be more likely to race on a dry track and get a better time as a result.
Sure enough, Lehikoinen had timed it to perfection. He came down hot on race day afternoon and knocked Peaty off the hotseat before a deluge of rain ripped through the venue. The remaining riders didn't stand a chance. The track was lethal enough in the dry but with a river running down it you just had to focus on getting down in one piece. Third and fourth-placed qualifiers, Bernat Guardia and Fabien Pedemanaud finished 71st and 72nd respectively. Pascal pulled a respectable 29th but Sam Hill was reading from a different crib sheet. He rode as if it was dry, came down covered in mud from a crash and still crossed the line just .03 behind Peat and 1.63 behind Lehikoinen. "Sam is the king today, give him the crown," said Peaty. Lehikoinen agreed, simply saying, “Sam is the winner today.”
The craziest thing is how close Sam came to winning, watch this video from the finish area, the look on Matti's face says it all:
Sam's bike in the pits after the race
A full recap from Caly Porter's film F1rst:
Full results: here
So, was this the greatest race run ever? There are definitely a few other contenders and can it be considered great if Sam didn't actually win? We'll let you debate that in the comments below.