CANADA’S MIRANDA MILLER WINS GOLD
2017 UCI MTB Downhill World Championships
Sept. 10 was a wild day in the jungles of northeastern Australia at the Cairns 2017 UCI MTB Downhill World Championships, as Squamish, B.C.’s Miranda Miller (CAN) captured the rainbow jersey – the first Elite woman to win a world title in downhill for Canada since Cindy Devine in 1990 at the first-ever MTB Worlds in Durango, Colo.“It’s pretty crazy,” admitted Miller. “I don’t think it has sunk in yet. I feel like I had some luck on my side, but I’ll take it. It’s pretty cool.”
After finishing 10th in the timed seeding, Miller was not on the radar for the victory. She’d battled for years with setbacks, most recently coming off of a knee injury from which she’d only just recovered.
Her best World Cup result of the season was a sixth place, while her best Elite World Championship result ever was eighth in 2015. Only once had she cracked the top three in a World Cup, with a career-best third in Leogang, Austria in 2016. She clearly had podium potential, but could she win?
That day in Cairns, the stars aligned for Miller. Defending champion and downhill legend Rachel Atheron (GBR) had gone down in training and was out with a broken collarbone. Miller threw down a clean, fast run to land in the hot seat with six more riders to go, including World Cup overall winner Myriam Nicole (FRA), top-seed Tahnee Seagrave (GBR), as well as hometown hero and third-seed Tracey Hannah (AUS).
Seagrave was the first to fall, as she set the fastest time in the top split, only to suffer a costly crash farther down the dusty 1.9km track that would see her wind up a distant 11th. Then it was Hannah’s turn, as she too bailed hard on the rough, loose course. Miraculously, she would still earn a bronze medal – a heartbreaking testament to how fast the Aussie rocket tore through the rest of her run. With only Nicole left at the top, Miller knew she was guaranteed a medal.
“When Myriam [Nicole] came down, I thought: ‘Oh, this is real,’” said Miller. “For Canada, we haven’t had a [downhill] medal since Stevie [Smith, 2013] and Claire [Buchar, 2011], so it is cool. We got a medal in the junior XC as well, so it’s great for Canada.”
But Nicole went off-line at the top and was unable to recoup the lost time, finishing a devastating 0.097 seconds behind Miller. In a surprising turn of events, a timing error had originally put Nicole way out of the medals, but after the application of the back-up timing system, she was bumped up to the silver medal, demoting Hannah to bronze.
“After reviewing the back-up timing of today’s women’s Elite downhill race at the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships
in Cairns [Australia], the Commissaires’ panel realized that a mistake had occurred in the primary timing, thus amended the final ranking,” read a statement from the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
Vaea Verbeeck, the field’s only other Canadian entrant, finished 16th. It was a tough day for Miller’s Specialized and Canadian teammate Finnley Iles. After clocking the quickest junior men’s seeding run and winning six of seven World Cup rounds and the series’ overall, Iles was the frontrunner to defend his 2016 title, but after two big mistakes in his final, his podium hopes evaporated and he ended up a disappointing 10th. This left the door open for Matt Walker (GBR), who took full advantage to capture the jersey.
Canada was further represented by Kendall McLean in 23rd, Ben Wallace in 25th, Jacob Stefiuk in 37th, Joshua Fultz-Veinotte in 41st, Anthony Poulson in 46th and Cole Mooney in 47th.
The Elite men’s was another nail-biter with local boy and top-seed Mick Hannah (AUT) – and brother to Tracey – the crowd’s clear top pick. However, the field was absolutely stacked and it was anyone’s guess who would win the rainbow stripes on the dry and slippery track.
The 40th man down the hill, it appeared Hannah and his blistering run could stand up to the test as rider after rider failed to knock him out of the top spot. But finally, 23 riders later, the winner of the 2016 World Cup on the same track, 2015 world champion and second-seed Loic Bruni (FRA) leveled a devastating blow with his time of 3:26.656, a mere 0.339 seconds better than Hannah’s.
After that, only five riders remained, but they were riders to be feared and included defending world champion Danny Hart (GBR), World Cup overall winner Aaron Gwin (USA) and the sport’s winning’est man, Greg Minnaar (RSA). In the end, Bruni’s time endured and he was crowned the King of Downhill for the second time in three years. Hannah hung on for silver, while Gwin took bronze.
Samuel Thibault (CAN) was Canada’s top finisher in 53rd, followed by Mark Wallace (CAN), who was ranked ninth in the UCI standings, but crashed and finished 54th.
Mélanie Chappaz (FRA) charged to first in the junior women’s race. No Canadians took part.
B.C.’s Miranda Miller became the first Elite woman to win a world title in downhill for Canada since Cindy Devine in 1990.
France’s Loic Bruni was crowned the King of Downhill for the second time in three years.
Canada’s Finnley Iles qualified fastest but could not defend his junior men’s DH 2016 title, ending up 10th.
Elite women’s DH Worlds podium (l-r): Myriam Nicole 2nd, MIranda Miller 1st, Tracey Hannah 3rd
Vaea Verbeeck finished 16th.
Ranked 9th, Mark Wallace finished 54th.