Throwback Thursday: Heartbreak for Hill & an Atherton Double Win at the 2008 Val di Sole World Champs

Aug 18, 2021 at 12:09
by Alicia Leggett  

2008 was the year Val di Sole was unleashed on an unsuspected field of elite riders. Rooty, rocky and relentless, it's a brute of a course that remains one of the tougest on the circuit to this day. At the time Micayla Gatto said, "It hurts your fingers because you have to brake so much!" whereas Miranda Miller went with the slightly more direct, "it’s ill".

2008 was also the year of Rachel Atherton's first Elite World Champs win at Val di Sole. Nobody knew at the time, but that was the season that would kick off Rachel's decade-plus of dominance in the elite women's downhill scene. She took the win by 11.99 seconds over Sabrina Jonnier, the French mountain bike legend who slotted into second place.


The men's race had even more action. Steve Peat was at the top of his career but had still never won a World Championship. He felt it was the last achievement in the sport that he had yet to tick off, and yet he couldn't seem to find that extra edge under the pressure of a single winner-takes-all race run. At Val di Sole, it finally looked like he'd done it. He beat Fabien Barel by nearly three seconds and was in the hot seat with Sam Hil and Gee Atherton left to go. Had he done enough to take the rainbow stripes?

Steve Peat and Gee Atherton.

Reigning World Champ Sam Hill came out the start gate swinging, and he continued to put everything on the line all the way down the track. At the first split, he was 5.3 seconds up. At the next split, he'd pulled another second from Peaty with smooth, direct lines. Then, in the last corner of the track, he lost his front wheel and washed out. His lead was gone, and by the time he'd jumped up and pedaled back up to speed, he was half a second behind Peaty.

In the end, it was the last rider down, Gee Atherton, who took the elusive World Champion title from Peaty by 2.6 seconds with an incredibly clean run down the track, joining his sister in bringing home Britain's first elite downhill World Championship wins.






120 Comments

  • 80 4
 The video quality is terrible but somehow the course coverage is better than most world cups these days? Step your game up Redbull!!
  • 10 0
 @The-Foiling-Optimist: I think a major difference is the cameras here are a bit more zoomed out, so you can actually see the course.
The red bull film crew love to zoom right in on the rider so you can't see anything else...
  • 4 0
 Seemed like back in the day, where the cameras were set on the course was a lot better... whoever was scoping things out back then was nailing it. Recent races it seems the cameras are set were it is most convenient as there are a lot more interesting areas to cover than where some of the cameras are setup.
  • 60 0
 "LOOK HOW FAST HE'S GOING!", "LOOK AT HIM SLINDIN'...!", "OOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW"
- Rob Warner on Sam Hill
  • 45 0
 Rob Warner on literally everyone in the Freecaster days.
  • 11 0
 @samnation: rip rob
  • 9 0
 No one ever has or ever will ride a bike like Sam Hill did for that 2:55. Like you said that steep section at 2:38 is the definitive moment in downhill racing in my mind and will never be matched. Unbelievable.

Part of me want to believe his wash out was to ensure the world would remember his run as the best of all time - though Im sure he doesnt see it that way.

If you asked ANYBODY if they could ride like one pro who would it be?.....Im sure everyone would say SAM HILL.
  • 32 0
 I freekin' loved this period of DH racing. I love how Rob could say what he wanted & got as excited as us watching on TV. I've still got my 26inch DH bike, I need to stop blaming wheel size for my s*** riding.
  • 2 0
 To set this into perspective: back in the day freecaster showed all 80 or so riders with a sober rob. So the show did build up from the mellow first guys to this intense finale.
  • 8 0
 @KalkhoffKiller: Started with a sober rob you mean?
  • 1 0
 @KalkhoffKiller: And junior were included on finals, now you have reports and you can miss a winning run, even at world champs... Surely Redbull does some great things for MTB racing, but there are bad too!
  • 2 0
 It was the best era of racing...hands down. Excellent comment
  • 36 3
 Bring back skin suits in downhill racing!!!!! just kidding please dont downvote me
  • 13 0
 Not downhill but Richie Rude is basically wearing a skinsuit with a slightly looser vest over top.
  • 153 1
 Bring back alcohol in the announcers booth
  • 28 0
 Also,bring back Sam Hill at his best in DH racing!
  • 5 0
 They might as well bring them back as most riders are wearing the tightest shirts and pants they can.

As BK said in one of his recent vids, it’s free time and who doesn’t want that.
  • 6 0
 @rustiegrizwold: Dude Richie is wearing normal jerseys, it's just he fills them...
  • 6 0
 @rustiegrizwold: I'm surprised he is allowed to travelling around the world with those guns.
  • 3 0
 @tgent: I would fill my jersey as well, if I worn a size smaller than I should
  • 2 2
 @cypher74: its unethical to force the guys to look like roadies just to compete at the top of the sport though many of them have wives and kids they wouldnt be able to look in the eye
  • 1 0
 @cypher74: I find it interesting how tight the Team Atherton kit is now considering they were instrumental (or at least very vocal at the time) in getting the rules changed for the ban.
  • 23 0
 Sam hill, what a legend! He would have won that race with such a big gap. Remember watching this, jumping off the couch when he washed out! Was super gutted! Can Pinkbike please make a Rob Warner commentating tribute of some of the best lines he said? Does anyone remember the Danny Hart - Champery - 2011 UCI Downhill World Championships race? Such good commentary!
  • 6 0
 "How does Danny Hart sit down with balls that big!?"
  • 7 0
 "LOOK AT THE WHIP"
"WHAAAAAT THE HELL!"
  • 5 0
 Remember? Who could forget it.
  • 5 0
 Rob on Steve Smith at MSA....."OH IF ONLY HE KNEW HOW CLOSE HE WAS TO TAKING THE WIN HERE TODAY". And then Steve took the win.
  • 22 0
 Spoilers right in the headline? C'mon, guys! I was gonna watch this later.
  • 13 1
 The most spectacular World Champs ever! (Except for Hart's win in Champery, perhaps)
  • 3 0
 You had me up until the word 'except'
  • 13 0
 Bring back the Freecaster style!
  • 4 0
 Just not the Freecaster streaming reliability!
  • 9 0
 For what it's worth, in an interview later Sam said that even if he knew how far ahead he was, he wouldn't have backed off, and ended with something like "I'm a racer and I always go as fast as I can."
  • 10 0
 I wish Iron horse came back. Hill was so dominant on that frame
  • 1 0
 Listened to a podcast with SH, it was only because team guys cut and reweleded their frames, to slacken the head angle and lower the BB. Otherwise they were not great according to SH
  • 1 0
 @gooral: A lot of this going on back then, Barel's Stab was heavily modified including cut and rewelded rear end apparently, it's awesome to see and read about but also does call into question the product vs the race bike.

Ben Reid had cut and shortened stays on his ATX2 but he was riding that when the DH Team was an option!
  • 11 1
 I have that Skinsuit hanging behind my desk, dirt and all.
  • 1 1
 How’d you manage to get that
  • 21 1
 @stormracing: From Sam.....my desk is at Troy Lee Designs
  • 3 3
 @stikmanglaspell: yeah figured it was from him… duh..
more so meant how the connection was made to get that cool piece of history. But right on. Yeah being at TLD definitely has its perks
  • 2 0
 @mashrv1: that’s awesome! Right on. Thanks for sharing! Cool to see and I can see how he had that rad connection with Sam now.
  • 3 0
 @stikmanglaspell: no disrespect meant in any way sir. Very rad what you do I was just curious how you had the connection with Sam. Way rad and I can see now.
  • 1 0
 Bad ass! Great piece of dh history.
  • 2 0
 @mashrv1: that was an awesome read. Thanks for posting that link.
  • 3 0
 @stormracing: none taken whatsoever! Biggest regret in my sports marketing career was not working hard enough to keep sam on board while he was at CRC-but he knows he's always part of the TLD fam.
  • 1 0
 @stikmanglaspell: SAM in CRC kit was always balla!
  • 7 0
 Same tears 13 years later, I remeber I cried that day because I was happy for Steve, I cry today becuse I’m sad for Sam, what happened?
  • 9 1
 Rob Warner’s inability to let the other announcers ever get a word in still lives to this day haha
  • 7 0
 Real shame the other guy in the box was just bitching about pedals while rob was screaming at hill going miles and sliding out.
  • 3 0
 Tha was quite funny, like the other guy was carrying on some sort of commentary with Rob on top of him. Does anyone know who that was? It's the same in all three of the clips. BTW those bikes look so short, especially Rachel's actually. They're sort of hanging over them.
  • 1 1
 Nigel Page IIRC.
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel: not Pagey, his voice is a lot more high pitched. Can’t work out who that was
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel: Nigel was at Champery Hart win. Don't know who this guy is
  • 2 0
 @Joakinho: Damn, that's what I was thinking of.
  • 6 0
 RIP Freecaster. Those were the days.
  • 3 0
 Always loved this run but after seeing peatys documentary its more epic on so many levels. Peaty waiting for his gold after those years, sam lying run of the history and gee nailing them both. What an epic story
  • 6 1
 So, is Hill's 2008 Val di Sole crash the most famous example of the Minion DHF tread dead zone?
  • 3 0
 As an avid follower of the World Cups (watched every race for years), I've never actually seen this whole run. What a heartbreaker.
  • 3 0
 I feel like nobody really remembers who won 2008 Val Di Sole. It is just the event where Sam Hill was so much better than everyone else.
  • 1 0
 Probably someone does...
At least Gee, Sam and Peaty Big Grin
  • 2 0
 Same with that Champery wc race around the same season, where he crashed in the wet and still nearly brought home the win.
  • 1 0
 Same for 2007 Champery, Hill is remembered for what was probably the greatest downhill race run of all time and the winner that day is not.
  • 3 0
 Despite crashing on the type of corner he typically masters, Sam proved he was the man on the mountain that day! What a legend... I miss those days...!
  • 3 0
 Weird how Sam's bike looks normal (maybe because I'm used to seeing him in EWSs) but both the Athertons look ridiculous on tiny bikes.
  • 1 0
 This is the most classic race run ever in my eyes it was just so amazing to see Sam looking like the tape was playing at 1.5x and then when he lost it it was just a scream out loud moment. Anyone remember Danny Hart on the same corner a few years later get pushed so far outside that the spectators were literally running for their lives... haha!!
  • 1 1
 after al long stint out of MTB (started pre 2000s on a SuperV3000) a decade or so later I bought an Intense Socom and was blown away on its capability. 18mths later i got an XL M16 and was equally impressed with if stability and 'hero bike' feeling however for the longest time, my times on the Socom where significantly lower than on the M16 which 'I felt' faster on, I couldn't work out why.... Now seeing the SamHill run, I realise that the smaller Mid 2000s bike just ping and skip down the track rather than soaking and smashing like the M16....I'm now going faster on the M16 than the Socom however it was puzzling.
  • 4 1
 Heartbreaking. I hope Sam doesn't look at pinkbike today.
  • 3 0
 The racing was as tight as Gees kit.
  • 3 0
 Man, the bikes have gone such a long way for 10 years.
  • 3 0
 Prime Sam Hill was scary fast!
  • 3 0
 I'm still gutted for Tracey Hannah falling at Cairns.
  • 2 0
 I think Sam Hill was probably responsible for every single Sunday sale. Hope he got a commission.
  • 1 0
 There was one smooth flat rock in that inside line that was super slick with the dust on it. I think that is what Sam started to slide on. It was amazing
  • 2 0
 Wow so much more exciting than the coverage from Maribor
  • 1 0
 The good ole days. These bikes would be deemed unrideable nowadays. 26" and coil forks lol ...
  • 1 0
 I suspect more of the WC riders are on coil forks than the logos suggest...
  • 1 0
 Can‘t believe they were going 65km/h down this track, absolutely insane!!
  • 1 0
 Which of the Clay Porter films covered this season? Need to go re-watch! Smile
  • 2 0
 Tipping Point
  • 1 0
 Best run ever in my opinion. Inflexion point for Sam’s carrer. That berm was a super hard punch on his mentallity.
  • 4 3
 Nigel was having an orgasm watching Sam come down.
  • 2 0
 this vid got me into dh
  • 2 0
 "It's the World's Rob"
  • 1 0
 Who's the co-commentator? Rob Warner just shouts all over him Smile
  • 1 0
 A beautiful and heartbreaking run.
  • 1 0
 I was gutted and felt worse for Peaty
  • 1 0
 freecaster rob is best rob.
  • 1 0
 OMG it still tingles. Truly amazing.
  • 1 0
 Non ce la faccio, troppi ricordi...
  • 1 0
 GEZUS HE'S FAST!
  • 1 1
 Crazy how much faster the women’s field is today.
  • 8 16
flag cypher74 (Aug 19, 2021 at 13:36) (Below Threshold)
 But still a lot slower than the men.
  • 4 0
 I know what you mean but to be fair i think the fresh val di sole track was insanely technical but its just Sam Hill was on another level to everyone else. And the master of tech
  • 11 3
 @cypher74: These days, the elite women’s field is as exciting to watch as the men’s field. No one cares about your dumb opinion.
  • 1 0
 Seems to be the same to me. Gap to men’s is about the same as it was last weekend
  • 3 4
 Sam Hill no longer uses that front tire and the winner should’ve just humbly handed him the trophy and the check
  • 1 0
 But those skin tights
  • 1 0
 When bikes were bikes
  • 2 4
 Todays riders are not able to go that fast, and that is crazy
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