There was a brand new track awaiting the world’s best downhill riders in Switzerland this weekend but familiar faces stood on top of the podiums once the dust had settled.
South African rider Greg Minnaar rode to his 18th victory, making him the most successful male rider in the history of the sport, while Rachel Atherton sealed her third-straight win this season in Lenzerheide.
Minnaar equalled Steve Peat’s haul of 17 World Cup victories when he won in Fort William earlier this season and took the record for himself with another flawless ride in tough conditions on Saturday.
Loic Bruni qualified in first for the third time this season but a mistake on the final corner left him under a second behind Minnaar with Australia’s Dean Lucas rounding off the top three with his best ever finish.
Aaron Gwin couldn’t add to his mind-blowing win in Leogang and finished 8th, leaving the overall standings wide open with Minnaar and Bruni cutting the American’s lead in the race for the World Cup title.
“I didn’t think I had it in me this week to win and I just wanted to put in a solid run,” said Minnaar. “I’m stoked to win my 18th World Cup, I’m overwhelmed.
“I’m just trying to soak it up. It was nerve-racking watching Loic come down. I don’t know what to say, it’s amazing.
After ridiculously wet weather in Fort William and Leogang at the previous two rounds, hot and dry conditions welcomed the riders to Lenzerheide.
However, the loose and dusty conditions ensured the racing was as wild as ever with plenty of crashes as the smallest of mistakes proved costly on the short and fast course.
Kiwi Eddie Masters set the early pace with a brilliant run before Lucas put in the ride of his life to take the hot seat.
His previous best World Cup finish was 18th, but he saw off competition from a host of the world’s best riders, including Gee Atherton and Stevie Smith, however he couldn’t stop Minnaar making history.
The 34-year-old dropped with five riders to go and raced into the record books, taking the lead by almost two seconds, before watching Remi Thirion, Josh Bryceland, Conor Fearon, Gwin and Bruni all fall short.
In the women’s race Emilie Siegenthaler was unlucky to pick up a flat tire on home soil, but Australian Tracey Hannah finally put recent crashes behind her to take the hot seat with three riders to go.
However, reigning World Cup title holder and World Champion Manon Carpenter also bounced back from bad luck in Leogang, knocking Hannah off the top spot by over two seconds.
But even the Welsh rider’s resurgence wasn’t enough to stop Atherton who turned in another dominant performance, winning by over five seconds.
And the huge margin was too much for fastest qualifier Emmeline Ragot, who could only manage fifth place after an early crash, allowing Atherton to take another step closer to reclaiming the World Cup title.
“I don’t think I would have taken the win if Emmeline hadn’t crashed,” she said. “It was a wild track and really dry. I knew I was going to have to dig super deep.
“The conditions were really hard. It’s so dry. We hardly ever race when it’s this dry all weekend. I’m glad I didn’t give up and persevered to the end.”
With three races to go the chasing pack have a lot of catching up to do if they want to catch Atherton but in the elite men’s event everything is still on the line with the potential for even more record-breaking runs along the way.