• Rachel Atherton (Trek Factory Racing) (Robert Jones)Source: Robert Jones
The 2018 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup for downhill concluded on Saturday in La Bresse, France, with Round 7.
Robert Jones

26 Aug 2018 - 9:24 AM  UPDATED 28 Aug 2018 - 9:24 AM

Rachel Atherton (Trek Factory) won the women's race to wrap up a record sixth overall title, while unheralded Martin Maes (GT Factory) became the first Belgian rider to win a Downhill World Cup on the men's side. Amaury Pierron (Commencal/Vallnord) had already locked up the men's title after Round 6.

Steady rain through the week had drenched the course, and it did not let up for race day, with temperatures in the single digits Celcius. The muddy, slippery conditions led to numerous crashes, as riders pushed it the corners.

Former world champion Morgane Charre of France set the first sub-3:10 time, which was immediately beaten by Germany's Nina Hoffmann, a former javelin athlete who has taken up downhill. British champion Katy Curd then took the lead and managed to hold it until Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Vallnord) went below 3:05.

Two riders later, Atherton, the second to last starter, smashed it by over 11 seconds to become the first rider to go under three minutes. Fastest qualifier Tahnee Seagrave (Transition/MUC-off) stayed within a second of Atherton through her run, but couldn't manage to overtake her rival, finishing 0.638 seconds back.

"That was, hands down, one of the hardest races I've ever done," said Atherton, who took her 37th World Cup victory. After Tahnee put in an epic ride in qualifying, I knew I had to go full blast. I knew I had to do well, because the battle for the overall was so tight. I never thought I would get a sixth title, so I'm stoked."

Atherton won the title with 1476 points, 160 more than Seagrave, with Australian champion Tracey Hannah (Polygon UR) maintaining her third place overall.

In the men's race, it was Bernard Kerr (Pivot Factory), the 11th rider out of the start gate, that set the first time to beat - 2:31.009 - which would prove fast enough for fifth at the end of the day. He held the top spot in the Hot Seat through 25 riders before Maes finally bumped him with a time of 2:26.841, which would be the only time under 2:27 for the day. Maes is better known for Enduro racing, and came to La Bresse fresh off two wins at the Whistler Crankworks earlier in the month.

Six riders later, fastest qualifier Gee Atherton (Trek Factory) came closest to Maes, but was still 1.391 seconds back. In fact, none of the top-5 ranked riders in the World Cup made it to the podium, with eighth ranked Brook MacDonald (MS Mondraker) the only top-10 rider to make the podium, in third. Pierron was in contention for the win until he crashed with two corners to go.

"This is very emotional for me, because I didn't think it was possible to win," said Maes. "I just had a good run and did it with the Enduro spirit! It's good to beat the downhill boys at their own game. Amaury coming down last ... I was super nervous. I just can't believe it."

Pierron took the title with 1178 points, while Danny Hart (Madison Saracen) jumped to second in the final standings from third, while Australian champion Troy Brosnan (Canyon Factory) moved up to third, pushing Loris Vergier (Santa Cruz Syndicate) to fourth.

"It's been a dream since I started riding," said Pierron. "I watched the big boys, like Sam Hill, Gee Atherton and Minnaar, and now I have it. I showed this season that I can go fast on every track and in every conditions."