Australia's Sam Hill surprised himself by winning the gold medal at the downhill world championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, on Sunday afternoon. In the final event of the weekend, Hill brought Australia its second gravity gold medal of the day. Steve Smith made Canadian fans proud by earning a silver medal, and Greg Minnaar (South Africa) finished third.
"I don't know what it is, but this is where I do well," said Hill of Mont-Sainte-Anne, where he won World Cups in 2007 and 2009. "It's where I first raced the World Cup in 2001, and I'm always excited to come back."
Hill said that during the week's training, he had doubts about how well he would do. He was coming off two serious injuries that hurt him this season. "I've been sitting on the couch, and I didn't have the confidence. This morning's practice kind of bummed me out. I was really sloppy."
Hill had reconstructive knee surgery in February, but made it back to competition in time for the World Cup despite feeling weak in training. In the second World Cup, he snapped three ligaments in his shoulder.
"I wanted to do well last weekend in Windham and ended up in 13th, which wasn't a great confidence builder. To come back from all that and be able to win today is really great. I still get a bit of pain when I ride. I'll take some time off now and get fully healthy."
Andrew Neethling (South Africa) set the first time that would hold up for awhile: 4:47.94. Mitchell Delfs (Australia), 13 riders later, was descending the fastest, but he crashed, and Neethling's time continued to stand for another three more riders.
That's when former junior downhill World Champion Danny Hart (Great Britain) rode a super smooth and fast run to set the new best time of 4:45.80, which would hold up for eighth.
Three riders later, Steve Smith wowed the home crowds to set the new fastest time of 4:40.56. Some may have thought that Smith, who is not as well known as some of the other men in the race, would not remain on the podium, but only one man could beat him this day, and that was Hill.
Justin Leov (New Zealand) crashed on his run, Nick Beer (Switzerland) flatted, and Marc Beaumont (Great Britain), Brendan Fairclough (Great Britain), Aaron Gwin (United States) and Samuel Blenkinsop (New Zealand) were not as fast as the leader.
All eyes were on Greg Minnaar (South Africa), but he brushed a tree high up and didn't have the overall speed of Hill and Smith. However, he was fast enough for the bronze medal in 4:40.93.
Then it was up to former World Champion Gee Atherton (Great Britain) and last year's World Champion Steve Peat (Great Britain) to do their runs. Atherton ended up in fifth and Peat was seventh. Neither could knock Hill out of the hot seat.
Throughout the day, it rained lightly on and off, and it rained overnight and occasionally the previous day and night. A track that had been very dry and dusty early in the week was converted to wet and slippery, more the Mont-Sainte-Anne-like conditions that racers have come to expect.
"These conditions were kind of bumming me out," said Hill, who would have preferred it a bit drier. "As I was in the start house, I was trying to figure out what line to take in the first two corners. The track was pretty horrible and boggy after it rained last night and later this week."
Upon finishing his run and stepping into the hot seat, Hill didn't think his time was good enough to hold up for the win. "When I was halfway down the track, the crowds were whisper-quiet, so I figured I was about 10 seconds back. No one was cheering." Halfway down was about when Hill said he started to find his groove and feel good and smooth.
Smith, on the other hand, had a blast on the track. "Right out of the gate, this course is fun all the way down," he said. "There is so much variety on the way down. The most challenging thing is putting a full run together. It's a long track and there's a lot going on."
Spurred on by his fellow Canadians, Smith said he almost got a little too excited at one point as he slid off the last jump, but he managed not to crash. Amazingly, the rider was racing on a separated AC joint he sustained in a crash on Thursday night.
"I had a little bit of pain, and I tried to ignore it during the race. Once the adrenaline was going, I didn't really feel it." Smith said his performance today has boosted his confidence looking toward next year, when he hopes to make the World Cup podium more often.
With the rain starting and stopping frequently during the elite men's event, some racers had to contend with drizzle or outright rain while others had clear skies. Hill and Smith were able to do their runs in slightly drier conditions.
Minnaar, who has often excelled at Mont-Sainte-Anne said, "We (later guys) had a bit more rain in our face than the other guys, but that's racing."
Complimenting Hill and Smith, he said, "These guys rode really well, and it's amazing that Sam has come back from his injury like that." Having had is own shoulder troubles in the past, Minnaar would know.
Always a consistent performer at Mont-Sainte-Anne, American Aaron Gwin put in another top-five performance to finish fourth. "My run was kind of conservative, and the track was kind of boggy," said Gwin, who noted how rainy the races have been this year. "It's my third fourth of the year, and I was fourth overall (in the World Cup). I guess I'm holding down that place for now. I've got a plan for next year, though, and I think I've learned how to train better for next year."
Another American Luke Strobel finished 16th with a time of 4:50.98. "It was super sticky, and I tried to hold on. I didn't push enough, but I was coming back from a shoulder rotator cuff injury and wanted to play it safe."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Samuel Hill (Australia)||0:04:37.93|
|2||Steve Smith (Canada)||0:00:02.63|
|3||Greg Minnaar (South Africa)||0:00:03.00|
|4||Aaron Gwin (United States Of America)||0:00:04.08|
|5||Gee Atherton (Great Britain)||0:00:04.71|
|6||Marc Beaumont (Great Britain)||0:00:07.59|
|7||Steve Peat (Great Britain)||0:00:07.61|
|8||Danny Hart (Great Britain)||0:00:07.87|
|9||Samuel Blenkinsop (New Zealand)||0:00:08.33|
|10||Damien Spagnolo (France)||0:00:09.68|
|11||Andrew Neethling (South Africa)||0:00:10.01|
|12||Brook Macdonald (New Zealand)||0:00:10.23|
|13||Marcel Beer (Switzerland)||0:00:10.71|
|14||Justin Leov (New Zealand)||0:00:11.87|
|15||Romain Paulhan (France)||0:00:11.90|
|16||Luke Strobel (United States Of America)||0:00:13.05|
|17||Joseph Smith (Great Britain)||0:00:13.94|
|18||Ben Reid (Ireland)||0:00:14.42|
|19||Ruaridh Cunningham (Great Britain)||0:00:14.79|
|20||Julien Camellini (France)||0:00:14.87|
|21||Lorenzo Suding (Italy)||0:00:15.98|
|22||Fabien Pedemanaud (France)||0:00:16.13|
|23||Filip Polc (Slovakia)||0:00:16.35|
|24||Markolf Berchtold (Brazil)||0:00:16.37|
|25||Bernat Guardia Pascual (Spain)||0:00:17.02|
|26||Marco Milivinti (Italy)||0:00:17.17|
|27||Chris Kovarik (Australia)||0:00:17.72|
|28||Brendan Fairclough (Great Britain)||0:00:18.77|
|29||Duncan Riffle (United States Of America)||0:00:19.10|
|30||Matej Charvat (Czech Republic)||0:00:19.14|
|31||Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas (Colombia)||0:00:19.34|
|32||Markus Pekoll (Austria)||0:00:20.02|
|33||Pasqual Canals Flix (Spain)||0:00:20.23|
|34||Thomas Vanderham (Canada)||0:00:20.50|
|35||Wyn Masters (New Zealand)||0:00:20.66|
|36||Boris Tetzlaff (Austria)||0:00:22.03|
|37||Nick Beer (Switzerland)||0:00:23.48|
|38||Bradley Benedict (United States Of America)||0:00:24.77|
|39||Rob Fraser (Canada)||0:00:25.00|
|40||Nejc Rutar (Slovenia)||0:00:25.23|
|41||Dennis Dertell (Sweden)||0:00:26.85|
|42||Logan Binggeli (United States Of America)||0:00:27.71|
|43||Walace Henrique Miranda (Brazil)||0:00:28.85|
|44||Andrew Mitchell (Canada)||0:00:29.12|
|45||Tyler Immer (United States Of America)||0:00:29.95|
|46||Ryan Vanderham (Canada)||0:00:30.45|
|47||Ivan Oulego Moreno (Spain)||0:00:31.03|
|48||Matthew Simmonds (Great Britain)||0:00:31.31|
|49||Antonio Ferreiro Pajuelo (Spain)||0:00:32.22|
|50||Takuya Aoki (Japan)||0:00:32.64|
|51||Camilo Andres Sanchez Paez (Colombia)||0:00:34.95|
|52||Kieran Bennett (New Zealand)||0:00:36.10|
|53||Shaun O'connor (Australia)||0:00:38.98|
|54||Hans Lambert (Canada)||0:00:39.57|
|55||Enrique Genova (Chile)||0:00:42.07|
|56||Dean Tennant (Canada)||0:00:42.10|
|57||Kyle Strait (United States Of America)||0:00:48.68|
|58||Mario Sieder (Austria)||0:00:58.86|
|59||Mihai Moga (Romania)||0:01:05.10|
|60||Robin Wallner (Sweden)||0:02:30.57|
|61||Mitchell Delfs (Australia)||0:04:03.96|
|DNS||Bryn Atkinson (Australia)|
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