OK, you can breathe again now, the DH action at PMB is over now and all the speculation on wheel choice and frame type can be put to rest (until the next round in Cairns, Australia!). We will be giving you a recap of the results, the winning bikes and whether or not any of our bike tech predictions were even close to accurate.
It’s fair to say that this opening round of the World Cup is out of character compared to last season; no Stevie Smith here to defend his title, Gee Atherton finishing outside the top 3 for the first time in a long time, sister Rachel Atherton not putting her usual first place performance due to illness and the return of the oft maligned Aaron Gwin.
Gwin returned to the top of the podium with a blisteringly fast run, 70kph through the speed traps at the top of the run, on his modified Specialized Enduro EVO with Fox Racing Shox 40s taking care of the nasty rock garden additions.
Nothing unusual about Manon Carpenter’s (can we call her the Welsh Dragon?) run to the finish – just pure pedal power and a super smooth run from top to bottom. She deserves a write up OK, so if Rachel had been fit this might have gone differently but we shouldn’t take away from Manon’s actions on a big traditional DH bike. This round has been on an unusual and extremely pedally track in temperatures wholly unfamiliar to riders from the far colder, far wetter UK. Can you imagine riding in the UK with the sun shining? *looks out the window to grey drizzle*
In terms of the top 3 positions and times they break down like this;
DH Elite Women Pietermaritzburg
|1||Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) GBR||4:34.293|
|2||Rachel Atherton (GT Factory Racing) GBR||4:34.831|
|3||Jill Kintner USA||4:44.041|
DH Elite Men Pietermaritzburg
|1||Aaron Gwin (Specialized Racing DH) USA||3:59.344|
|2||Michael Hannah (Hutchinson UR) AUS||4:01.381|
|3||Greg Minaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) RSA||4:02.168|
It looked to most as though ‘Sik Mik’ had the race sewn up, after years spent hungry for the win at this track, right up until Aaron Gwin stepped up to the plate. Mik spent most of the race sitting in the hot seat, an undoubtedly on the edge of the seat experience from the look of it with Mik unable to hide his feelings during Gwin’s winning run down the hill.
Looking at Gwin’s bike it differed significantly from the rest – a lighter enduro bike with a big DH fork on the front. A good call on the very pedally Pietermaritzburg run – perhaps this was one of the reasons for his success over the weekend? The magic must have come from his prototype Specialized Enduro EVO with 650B (27.5”) wheels. The whole set up was cloaked in mystery until recently, but we know he was running with 180mm of travel and a FOX 40 rear coil. For gripping the dry soil they’d taken on a Specialized Butcher Grid at the front and a Slaughter Semi-Slick at the rear with aSRAM x01 DH7-Speed drivetrain and Avid brakes. These seem to have been the recipe, plus a little pinch of Gwin, for success.
It’s rather odd for a manufacturer’s race team to use this type of bike though – a weird Frankenstein-esque hybrid. Don’t Specialized have a bike designed for DH racing on pedal-frantic courses? You have to remember the DH series are a great opportunity to show off their newest bikes and generate revenue from riders wanting that winning rig. Maybe the hybrid will be setup as a standard issue bike and a new genre will emerge – Enduro-DH ?
From our perspective, it’s not recommended sticking a dual crown FOX 40 fork on your enduro trail bike any time soon… Most likely the return to the standard DH bike will begin at the next race in Cairns and continue throughout the rest of the season. Back to the standard DH courses that we know (i.e – minimal pedalling).
If you are a first time viewer of the DH series, you might not know yet that this one is pretty unique. It should be for the first handful of races anyway. Usually the riders Stevie Smith and Gee Atherton are the two forerunners for 1st and 2nd, with 3rd place being duked out by the filler-riders. This year Stevie is out for the first 3 races due to injury and Gee is not on form so it really is an open verdict on who will triumph and take the final win. This gives a far better viewing experience as we aren’t yet sure who is the favourite to win, it could be anyone! Don’t forget to check out the UCI DH World Cup Highlights over at RedBull’s page here.
Next week we will see the rider’s tackle the subtropical rainforest track in Cairns, Australia. Resident Mik Hannah and his sister Tracey will surely have the advantage, although this didn’t play out as expected in S.A with local boy Greg Minaar. Will Gee and Rachel (pending her recovery from a bacterial infection) take back the wind from Gwin and Manon’s sails? Stay tuned for a write up of the course, predictions and an
idiots beginners, guide to what’s coming up next!