Australian Sam Hill claimed his second consecutive elite men's downhill World Championship last weekend in Fort William, Scotland. Hill posted a time of 4:52.01 for the 2,820m course down the slopes of Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom's highest mountain. Silver medallist Fabien Barel of France was 0.64 seconds slower in 4:52.65 while Great Britain's Gee Atherton was more than four seconds off Hill's pace with his bronze medal time of 4:56.38.
The 22 year-old Hill, also ranked number one in the world, went into the final as the 24th seeded rider after posting a time more than 15 seconds slower than his finals ride but his slow qualifying round proved to be a tactical advantage.
"Everyone has their cameras out there and they're filming each other's lines so I took different lines (in qualifying) and they're a lot sneakier," said Hill who despite his seeding run time had gone into the event as the hot favourite. "I wanted to keep them to myself for the race and I didn't want the pressure of being the last rider to start."
The Scottish Highlands delivered rain, mist and wind for the final turning the course into a slippery slope of mud and rocks.
"I had a good run," said Hill who had to sit in the leader's hot seat and wait for 23 other riders to tackle the Ben Nevis course before knowing he had won. "I think it worked out (for me) with the wind because it got stronger towards the end so the last few guys had a bit of a disadvantage but that's the way worlds go.
"Maybe because I don't know what it's like (riding in the rain), I go out and try and ride it like it's dry and it worked for me," said Hill after local media asked how the Australian rider could be so dominant in the wet when his home area of West Australia is renowned for hot, dry and sunny weather.
Favorites like British rider Steve Peat and Nathan Rennie both ran into problems on the course. Peat said, "About 100 yards into the course I went over the wood bridge transitioning to the dirt and the bike slipped and both my feet came off and I landed heavy on the seat and it broke off. When I rode the chair lift up the wind blew my bike badly and it was barely hanging on by the seat. I think that might have weakened the seat. The weather conditions up there were so gnarly. The wind was blowing hard. I'm really gutted."
Rennie had a fine run going and then entering the first woods section he lipped and as he said, "I went straight over the bars. I was stunned at first as to what happened. I ran back up to get my bike and kept going. I just made one mistake after that. Im really pissed about it. I had a really good run going and I was just 11 seconds back with the crash."
In the women's downhill 2006 Junior World Champion Tracey Hannah (5:39.89) performed strongly in her first year at elite level to claim the bronze medal. French defending champion Sabrina Jonnier won gold with her time of 5:28.35 and Great Britain's Rachel Atherton posted a time of 5:32.36 to finish in second place.
"It wasn't the best for me, as it was wet and muddy, and I am from the south of France where it is dry," said Jonnier in contrast to Hill. "Also, it felt like I was on enemy territory, with Rachel and Tracy (Moseley) having so much support! But I focussed and just went for it. I broke my derailleur somewhere on the track, and made two huge mistakes when I took the wrong lines. It was so easy to make mistakes because the course was so long. But there was no way that I wanted to give up my jersey; I like it too much."