We’ve become accustomed to a small group of elite within the elite taking victories on the world stage. And tomorrow we may see a return to that format, but today we can revel in the beauty of pure sport.
Against the odds, Manon Carpenter produced a ride that put Rachel Atherton, the dominant force in this sport, into a second place finish. It is indeed true that qualifying is not the race, but to have some flavour is a delight for the fans. Rachel had an off in the woods, but racing is racing and a crash does not win you the top prize. Two Brits at one and two in the rankings is fantastic, but Aussie Tracey Hannah wasn’t far behind . The gap to fourth however was massive with Morganne Charre 12 seconds back from 3rd place.
The junior men raged in their battle for supremacy with Charlie Hatton taking 2nd by a mere 0.995 seconds to Fin Illes who took a time that would have been 46th in Elite men. Matt Walker was 3rd after taking the fastest split and in fact the top 3 juniors changed positions constantly down this 2.8km brute. Even more impressive was that the top 6 junior men were separated by 5.9 seconds.
As the fans began to really throng in the afternoon the men , who all have a chance to shake the series up, took to course. The favourite, Danny Hart ejected above split one but then went on to be the fastest rider over the remainder of the course. Bernard Kerr followed suit and also ejected before split one.
Gwin laid down a strong run but allegedly had problems in the woods, along Gee Atherton who was the fastest rider and looked very strong and hungry. But the real story was the underdogs who make this sport so exciting. Eddie Masters, whose previous best qualification was a 4th in a rain hit Cairns set the story alight today with a 2nd place, ahead of Aaron Gwin. Adam Brayton, finally starting to over come his injury of 2013 took a brilliant 5th place and a top ten result beckons for the famed Keswick fisherman. With a distinct lack of 3G available for Brayton to be distracted by APP notifications , the Fort could be a launch pad. Greg Williamson took 7th on home turf and perhaps the biggest shock was George Gannicott in 10th place on board his Nicolai.
With that said, read on for the full story and make sure you tune in tomorrow….
Marshall 6 surveys his domain before first practice - Jonesy has seen it all and more here and if you plan on betting at Ladbrokes, hit him up for tips.
Three legends discuss the potential winners and performers. We don't think they'll have predicted today correctly though.....
With a nearly 50% win rate in regional events during his years as a Junior, Charlie Hatton will be pleased with his 2nd place qualification
Clearly not bothered by his nagging injury, the Top Junior, Matt Walker, made it into 3rd today. It is tight at the top.
The lazer eyes are locked and loaded! Morgane Charre is looking comfortable and ready to push in finals. 4th place Qualifier.
With a little niggle in her ankle, Tracey Hannah will be pleased with her 3rd place qualifer, and ready to push on Sunday. She has a win in her.
2nd place qualifier with a crash, Rachel Atherton is clearly trying to push here. But as we said in our state of play article, her mistakes will not go unpunished.
It's lonely being this far down the number boards, but George Gannicott must be an introvert because 10th place in qualifiers is no joke.
Not every racer has their day - Dan Meilink just missed qualifying by 4 spots/1.1 seconds. On to the next one for the Vanzac!
Laurie Greenland continues to make progress up through the ranks. 15th place is excellent for the first year Elite. This is a rider heading to the top.
Greg has a big head game but so far this season something isn't there. He still remains a threat as class never leaves but form can dip. His split times don't lie - he's up for this.
Heartbreak on Aonoch Mor - local hero Ben Cathro suffered a weekend-ending mechanical.
Fastest through the speed trap, American Dakota Norton qualified 44th on the day.
The merciless riding continued today, Brendan Fairclough was a little ways down the list into 17th. Brendan has speed here but his last split is pretty poor - on the real stuff up top he is well on pace but its on the jumps and pedals where he needs to improve.
Bernard Kerr is ranked 12th in the world - He might be better known for his videos and stunts but we're not sure this one was planned.
He won here in 2014 as a Junior, and Martin Maes has only gotten faster. 27th today, and looking steady.
On a roll with results, Greg Williamson put down a serious run in front of his home crowd. 7th.
Grounds keeper Willy looking relaxed, calm and on home turf in the Fort. 7th place and potential to go further tomorrow. Greg is on fire, and is the fastest Greg in the field at the moment. Not a bad starting point.
He's the man to watch this weekend, but a crash in his run dropped him down the list of qualifications into 21st. Danny, I think, expects to win here as he knows he most definitely can.
Looking back to his usual self after an injury-plagued 2015, Remi Thirion managed to slot into 12th today. He is picking up form again but there is just no way a rider can come back and win instantly these days.
Blasting! Scotty Mears is riding like a badass, flat pedals and all. 62nd in Qualifers, so we get to see more of this on Sunday.
Still claiming he is just aiming to be in the Finals, a 22nd place qualifier shows that Kenta Gallagher can start to set his expectations a little higher.
Adam-f'ing-Brayton! 5th place Qualifier...not much else to say! It's been a long road back from Brayton's 2013 collarbone break but speed takes time to build and he has it....
2014 winner at Fort Bill, Troy Brosnan is certainly capable of another win here, and is riding on level to do so - 4th place in Qualifying.
Seemingly riding a bit conservative, Aaron Gwin qualified in 3rd, but by the looks of things on tracks, has a lot more to offer for Sunday.
It's been two years since Gee has had a #1 next to his name, but today he has that going in his favor heading into the race that matters the most - Finals.