By Sue George in Val di Sole, Italy
With three gold medals and two silvers, Britain made it a landmark day at the UCI's Mountain Bike World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy.
It was a day for the gravity racers – starting with downhill events for the junior men and women. Great Britain's team got the racing kicked off on a positive note thanks to Josh Bryceland and Sam Dale. The two earned a gold and silver and set the tone for their senior peers to follow.
Next up to the top of the podium was Rachael Atherton in the elite women's race. "After Josh and Sam killed it in the juniors, the pressure was off," said Atherton. After she crossed the line, she looked back toward the clock to see how she had done.
"You're down it before you know it. I couldn't believe it – that I'd won," she said after defeating not one, but three French women, who finished second through fourth. One of those was 2007 World Champion Sabrina Jonnier. "Well actually I could believe it," she admitted upon second thought and smiling widely for the many cameras surrounding her.
Gee Atherton brought home Great Britain's third gold medal of the day when he won the elite men's downhill. As the final rider down the mountain on a technical and steep, but completely dry 2.25-kilometre course, all eyes were on him. On a day of many small mistakes and more than the usual number of crashes, Atherton rode a consistent race to victory. On his way to the win, he ousted compatriot Steve Peat from the top of the leaderboard.
"It's been an incredible day," said Gee. "We've been working on this for quite awhile now. It's been an awesome day for both of us," he said, referring to the two wins in the same family. "Now it's done and I'm stoked!"
Peat would go on to claim silver. In fact, Sam Hill (Australia) was on track for a winning performance, by more than six seconds, when he crashed on the final turn. The agile Aussie was back up on his feet while the crowd was still gasping in shock. His crash clearly cost him the gold medal, but his hasty efforts to get back on track still netted him a bronze.
"I'm glad a few people were able to kick his a** this year," joked Gee at the press conference, before complimenting him. "I have no doubt Sam will keep pushing it and he'll be up there. Sometimes you get a guy who takes a few steps up from the rest of us. That's what Sam did."
Peat said he was happy for Gee's win, but said he would have preferred to win himself. When asked why the British did so well racing downhill, he replied, "I think the Brits have always been strong, but now we have more experience, and it's time for us to come through."
The only thing that might have made the day more perfect for Rachel and Gee Atherton would have been if their brother Dan could have raced too. "Dan broke his collarbone earlier in the week and isn't racing," said Gee.
Rachael said she was happy to see him return to the venue after going home earlier in the week. "I'm used to having him there," she said, "and this race is pretty special to me."
If the British keep racing downhill so fast, they just might get used to being atop the downhill podium.
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