2017 UCI MTB Down­hill World Cham­pi­onships

Pedal Magazine - - Out In Front - BY SAN­DRA WAL­TER

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.

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