Twenty-year-old George Brannigan, the youngest of the kiwi troupe, led the way on a short but exacting downhill track at the UCI World Cup in Windham, USA today.
Brannigan, from Havelock North, placed 16th in a tight battle on the short, rocky course in upstate New York, finishing only 1.4 seconds off the podium with two of his DeVinci Global teammates in the top-10.
Wanganui’s Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International) was one spot behind while mistakes thwarted the efforts of Brook Macdonald and Cameron Cole after both were on fire on the top section of the course.
Meanwhile a crash in the final practice run for national champion Justin Leov proved costly, breaking his finger when he smashed against a tree, although the Dunedin rider completed his race run, clearly hampered by the injury.
It was still good news for Leov’s Trek World Racing team with his American teammate Aaron Gwin in an unstoppable run of form to claim his fourth straight World Cup title in remarkable fashion.
Brannigan enjoyed his best qualifying of his first full season on the World Cup as the seventh fastest and while he put together a solid run, he could not force his way into the top-10 on the gnarly course.
“If you rode just a little too conservative which I guess I did, then it ain’t going to happen on this course,” Brannigan said. “It was frustrating. I had a bad practice run this morning so I just wanted to have a smooth run which I thought was the way to do it here. I’m happy overall although I really wanted a top-10 so I am a bit bummed.
“I am learning a lot and figuring things out. This type of short course does not suit me although if it was twice as long it would definitely suit me. It was my best qualifying. When I cleaned that I knew I was riding well because I didn’t have an amazing run so I knew I could get a top result. That’s why I am a bit disappointed right now.”
Blenkinsop, who also qualified in the top-10, said some minor mistakes were the difference between his finish and a podium.
“I just had a few small mistakes and I was only less than two seconds off the podium but I finished 17th. It’s crazy,” Blenkinsop said. “On these short tracks everyone is going fast.
“Some of these other guys who are not as fit are good on the short tracks. Today there were random dudes who do not normally get in the top-10 so I guess the shorter tracks favoured them a little bit.”
However the Lapierre International rider said he and fellow kiwi teammate Cole were playing catch-up after both were out of action in the off-season with injury.
“I am lagging with some of the testing on the bike because I didn’t get as much time riding in the off-season. Now we have a bit of a break and we can test stuff for the last two world cups and the world championships where we will be strong.
“I feel strong on the bike. My training is just a little bit behind but we have three weeks now until the next round to improve on that. I am working on speed every race and getting back up there and should be back to my best in the next two world cups. That’s what I am hoping.”
Macdonald (MS Mondraker) was third fastest through the first time check today but crashed on the rocky section and had to settle for 34th place.
It was a similar story for Cole who was second fastest at the time off the top section before he also came down, settling for 41st.
The next round of the World Cup is at Val d’Isere in France at the end of the month, the final round for crosscountry and the penultimate racing for downhill which winds up in Norway in mid-September.
UCI Rocky Roads World Cup, Windham USA, elite men downhill: Aaron Gwin (USA, Trek World Racing) 2:26.416, 1; Steve Smith (CAN, DeVinco Global) 2:27.374, 2; Gee Atherton (GBR, GT Factory) 2:28.127, 3. Also New Zealanders: George Brannigan (DeVinci Global) 2:31.345, 16; Sam Blenkinsop (Lapierre International) 2:31.426, 17; Brook Macdonald (MS Mondraker) 2:34.940, 34; Cameron Cole (Lapierre International) 2:36.061, 41; Justin Leov (Trek World Racing) 2:41.313, 65.
Standings with two rounds remaining: Gwin 1150 points, 1; Greg Minnaar (RSA) 855, 2; Atherton 796, 3. Also: Blenkinsop 379, 11; Macdonald 353, 12; Cole 342, 13; Brannigan 341, 14; Leov 317, 19.