• Aaron Gwin, Specialized Racing (Fraser Britton)Source: Fraser Britton
Round one of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano on Sunday saw the return of two former World Cup winners to the top of the podium in Lourdes, France.
14 Apr 2015 - 7:50 AM  UPDATED 14 Apr 2015 - 12:35 PM

Emmeline Ragot (MS Mondraker) gave French fans a home win in the women's race, while Aaron Gwin (Specialized Racing) crushed the men's field.

Australia had three podium performances, with Tracey Hannah (Polygon UR) finishing 5th in the elite women, plus Andrew Crimmins (Kona Factory) winning the junior men and Jackson Frew (Australia national) taking 3rd. Australian champion Troy Brosnan finished 8th in the elite men's category.

The weather was perfect on race day, but the rough, rocky and steep track in Lourdes guaranteed that any mistakes would put riders out of contention for victory, and many riders suffered crashes or mechanicals as they forced the pace on this punishing track.

Defending women's World Cup champion and world champion Manon Carpenter (Madison Saracen) rode with five to go, taking the leading time down to three minutes and 40.531 seconds.

However, this was still more than ten seconds slower than the fastest qualifying time, set by Tracey Hannah, so everyone was expecting the winner was still to come. Ragot was the next rider after Carpenter, and she knocked 7.906 seconds off the best time to take the hot seat.

Rachel Atherton (GT Factory), multiple time World Cup and world champion, was faster than Ragot in both intermediate splits, up by two seconds after split two. However, she could not maintain the pace after washing out her rear wheel following a rock jump, and had to settle for second, two seconds behind her French rival.

The final rider was Hannah, whose qualifying time was nearly three seconds faster than Ragot's final run. At the second split Hannah was less than half a second back and still in contention for the win, but a crash in the lower third of the course ruined her chances. Remarkably, the Australian managed to get back on her bike quick enough to finish fifth.

"My run was okay, but I thought I could not win because I made a couple of mistakes at the start," Ragot said. "After that I knew that I just had to go full on. It was good to be here in France, with all my family and friends here."

After factoring in points from qualifying, Ragot leads the standings with 225 points, followed by Atherton at 200 points. Hannah sits fourth with 160 points.

The men's Final had Loic Bruni (Lapierre Gravity Republic) as the favourite, after qualifying first and riding in front of a home crowd. However, a number of top riders suffered problems in qualifying, with Gwin, Danny Hart (MS Mondraker) and world champion Gee Atherton (GT Factory) all crashing, so there was no way to know how fast they might have gone.

Former world champion Hart took the top time down to 3:05.577 after starting 24th from the end. Atherton, who had injured his wrist in his qualifying crash, was clearly not on form, finishing 48th, but Gwin, starting with 21 riders to go, then obliterated the top time, almost seven seconds faster than Hart, and the first of the weekend under three minutes, at 2:58.691.

There were still 20 riders to go, but it quickly became clear that Gwin, the 2011 and 2012 World Cup champion, had put down a special run, with no one able to come close. Rider after rider among the top qualifiers came down six, seven or eight seconds slower than the American champion.

Michael Jones (Chain Reaction Cycles/Paypal) managed to dislodge Hart for second, but was still 6.4 seconds back of Gwin. Finally, there was only Bruni left. The French rider came through the first split two-tenths of a second faster than Gwin but lost momentum through the middle part of the course and was nearly 2.8 seconds back at split two. He held on for second place, but was still 3.995 seconds behind Gwin at the finish line.

"It's a rough track," Gwin said. "but I think it is awesome. It is super fast and wide open.

"There are a lot of holes and soft sand, but that's what I'm used to, so I was loving it. I just tried to put it (qualifying crash) behind me and focus on today.

"It always sucks when you don't get a qualifier because you don't really know where you stack up. But I felt good all week and just had to try and go for it. Sitting in the Hot Seat for so long ... I was more nervous than in my run."

Troy Brosnan, Gwin's team mate, was the top Australian in 8th place, 8.096 seconds back. Dean Lucas (Devinci Global Racing) was the only other Australian to make the top-20, in 20th.

With 50 points awarded for qualifying first and 160 points for second in the final, Bruni takes a slim 10 point lead over Gwin in the standings, after Gwin did not score any points in qualifying. Brosnan is eighth in the standings with 103 points.