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Britain Rachel Atherton and American Aaron Gwin have each won their respective races at the fourth round of the 2016 UCI World Cup in Leogang, Austria.
In the elite women’s race, history beckoned for Atherton. If she was to further increase her claim to be the greatest female racer of all time then she would need to go one better than Frenchwoman Anne-Caroline Chausson’s record of 9 wins in a row.
Saturday’s deluge reduced the root-infested top half of the track to a lottery of skill and guts. It should have narrowed the gap to the chasing pack lead byTahnee Seagrave and Manon Carpenter but in reality, it simply widened the gulf in class; Atherton remained imperious going eight and a half seconds faster than Seagrave. Come race day and those who had been licking their lips in anticipation of a chaotic wet race were disappointed. The clouds hovered but eventually the sun broke through to begin the drying process.
Canadian Miranda Miller rode to an impressive third place ahead of Tracy Hannah. Seagrave set about those times and promptly chopped away at the deficit to take to the hot seat. Rachel Atherton hit the track and set about chasing the record. She was taking risks, it was obvious, a slide out in a corner was quickly and clinically corrected before she powered on and cleared the 20m finish line jump to land straight into the record books. Ten in a row secures her winning streak as the most impressive ever, the question is now who, if anyone, can bring it to an end? Pushing for a perfect season must be high on Rachel’s agenda.
In the men’s race, things got off to a rowdy start when early hot seat resident Phil Atwill crossed the line only to nose-wheelie almost straight out of the arena and into his own cameraman. His time would stand until another impressive run from returning Frenchman Remi Thirion dethroned the Englishman. Times tumbled as the track dried and Saturday’s qualifying pace was soon eclipsed. Cube’s Greg Williamson, continued his impressive run of results with a hot seat charge which would eventually land him in sixth when all was said and done.
Australian Troy Brosnan scorched through the splits and was going visibly faster in places. He crossed the line, back wheel drifting round and hand already aloft, he thought he’d done enough. But he hadn’t counted on France’s Loris Vergier. The teammate of absent World Champ, Loïc Bruni, he clearly lacked none of the natural speed or relaxed nature of his compatriot. Vergier crossed the line and, as with Brosnan, celebrated before quickly reigning himself in, visibly attempting to restrain the temptation to think about the victory which now seemingly loomed so large. He knew that there was still one man left at the top of the hill who had no end of history with this particular Austrian hillside.
Aaron Gwin was down at the first split, three tenths down in fact. It was a big margin, but not unassailable. The American was in no mood for hanging around and pulled out one of his vintage performances. Vergier’s margin was quickly and brutally eroded almost before the crowd at the finish line could work out what was going on. The win was Gwin’s by 3.3 seconds.
After second place in Fort William the previous weekend, his points haul from two weekends work was sizable and leaves him now firmly in control of the overall as the series heads to Lenzerheide in Switzerland for round five.
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