After getting sun-blinded out of the start gate and crashing in the first corner at the World Championships in South Africa two weeks earlier, Nanaimo's Steve Smith was on a mission to win World Cup in Hafjell, Norway, on Sunday. With heavy rain and wind to contend with, Smith was at his very best on the course, posting a time that was 1.64 seconds faster than second place finisher Danny Hart of the U.K. — a great wet weather rider — and Andrew Neethling of South Africa.
With Gee Atherton, the current World Cup points leader, placing 12th on the day, the gap in the overall standings is just 17 points heading into the World Cup finals in Leogang, Austria, this weekend. If Smith can finish one place above Atherton he'll be the first Canadian to win a World Cup overall title.
"We practiced all week in the sun, complete dust, and today was miserable," said Smith to Canadian Cyclist. "Practice was actually quite good. It just rained all day and it just kept getting worse and worse. Coming into some of those corners that I was not braking for in practice, I just shit my pants, there was so much mud and ruts. I slid around quite a bit and definitely pushed it. I am so stoked to get this."
The wind was also a factor and a lot of riders were crashing on some of the bigger jumps.
"The wind tripped me out. I was warming up at the top and I could see the first straight (section), and I could see everyone doing nose dives off the jump because of the wind. Mentally I should not have been watching everybody... but once I got going it was fun."
As for the overall, Smith's goal this year was to win races rather than focus on the entire season. He's now won two events, placed second, placed third, placed fourth and placed fifth in six events, with his only bad result coming in the world championship.
None of the other Canadians cracked the top 30, with Kyle Sangers in 35th, Kirk McDowall in 36th and Remi Gauvin in 37th.
Rachel Atherton continued to dominate the women's race circuit with another huge win, this time finishing 7.6 seconds faster than the next racer, fellow Brit Manon Carpenter. Myriam Nicole of France was third.
The top Canadian was Revelstoke's Casey Brown in eighth, followed by Miranda Miller in ninth and Whistler's Claire Buchar in 13th.
Atherton thanked the diehard fans for coming out and supporting the event.
"We had two runs this morning in the rain and it was lethal, so sketchy," she said. "You've got no ideas how fast to hit stuff. I don't know if anyone saw, but I had a few moments up there, a few wild moments, where I thought I was going down. I didn't know how fast I was gonna go, so I just held on."
In the junior race, Mark Wallace placed third for Canada, behind British racers Michael Jones and Innes Graham, with Vezina Mckay placing sixth and Whistler's Jack Iles ninth out of more than 40 racers from around the world.
There was also a World Cup cross-country race taking place over the same weekend. Members of the men's team stayed home. On the women's side, Catharine Pendrel of Kamloops placed seventh overall. Irina Kalentieva of Russia took the win, followed by Eva Lechner of Italy and Julie Bresset of France. The men's race went to Jaroslav Kulhavy of Czech Republic, followed by Nino Schurter of Switzerland and Manuel Fumic of Germany.