Mont-Sainte-Anne was a fitting end to the 2023 Downhill World Cup race season, it really had it all. When the world first heard the news that the final round of this year’s series was going to be held in Canada in early October the reception was somewhat lukewarm. When riders first saw Mont-Sainte-Anne (MSA) in ‘the Fall’ fears of rain, misery and possibly snow, quickly evaporated. Riders were greeted with a picture-perfect autumnal scene, as the blazing colors (red, orange, yellow, purple) of the leaves made the whole scene appear almost to good to be true.
Then there was the track. MSA is a classic, it’s been on the circuit more than any other venue. Already universally loved by riders this year the organizers threw in a few changes to mix things up. Nothing too major, but a few new sections, nice touches to an already awesome track. The moisture level of the dirt was perfect, everything was looking good… then of course it rained on race day!
But let’s rewind a little. With team leader Aaron Gwin still out recuperating from an injury he sustained at the first World Cup of the season, INTENSE Factory Racing were down to three, Dak Norton, Joe Breeden and Seth Sherlock. Things didn’t go too well for Seth (above). After crashing and banging his head on the first day of practice he took the decision (after seeking medical advice) not to participate any further. Season over for Seth.
“I was riding well and having a great time during practice, but unfortunately had a crash on my fourth run and ‘rung my bell’. Had a check in with first aid and they said that I wasn’t good to race, so that was it for me unfortunately. Bummed to miss out on one of the best races of the year, but better safe than sorry with head injuries I guess.” Seth Sherlock
So Seth never got to race the qualification race, but it was good news for Dak and Joe. After Dak’s great result in Snowshoe it meant that he was in the top 10 overall. This meant that not only was he protected for the qualification race but also for the semi. He could treat those two runs down the hill almost like practice runs, especially because for the final race of the season there would be no points allocated for qualis and semis. The pressure was off somewhat, 10th was perfect for Dak. For Joe (above and below), he needed a top 60. He slotted into 49th position. Job done, on to semis.
As mention previously, after the perfect conditions on Thursday and Friday things changed on Saturday (race day) morning. Rain had been forecast and it arrived, with a vengeance. The track became a bit of a lottery. Some sections in the woods remained dry and even dusty in some places, whilst many of the others, including the treacherous lower rock sections, became like ice rinks. Dak once again played it cool and went P4, for Joe it was a different story. He’s suffered a lot with arm pump, especially it would seem towards the end of the season. Down on spilt 1, he was off the pace. The race just seemed to drift away from him. Finishing in 55 was not where he would have wanted to be, but he was in very good company, getting into the main event is very difficult these days.
“MSA is a brute, but one of my favorite tracks every year. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the final show, a hard end to the season, but home now to start my off-season with some much needed adjustments and fire well and truly lit for a strong return in 2024.” Joe Breeden
For finals the rain seemed to ease off, it was still greasy and slippy, so it was hard to know which way the race would go. For Dak it was looking good, at split one he was in the green over half a second faster, but then disaster struck. High up the course, off camera and at around 1 min 50 secs into his run, Dak crashed, he was down, he was out… sort of! He seemingly cruised past the first TV camera that picked him up. His body language was all “game over”. It looked like he almost begrudgingly rode down the rest of the track. I think it’s safe to say that he thought his race was done.
He wasn’t to know that even after his crash he was only +2.562 slower at split 2, then +2.038 at split 3, then just +0.566 at split 4. For all of us watching we were going nuts! It was on. Dak cruised across the line just +0.492 behind (then leader) Bernard Kerr. Dak looked a bit shocked at how close he was. Much like at Snowshoe seven days before, he had crashed and then come back strong. Not only had Dak crashed but he also crossed the line with a flat tire, he was riding on the rim for the last part of the track, so we don’t blame him for not pedaling towards the finish line!
The race ended up being one of the craziest of the year. Finn Illes was up by four seconds but crashed out, then Loic Bruni claimed third place, which was enough for him to win the title, relative unknown Ethan Craik took second, and that crazy-ass run of Jackson Goldstone... 4.3 seconds ahead of everyone! What was almost even crazier was that Dak, with a crash and a flat tire remember, finished in sixth place, just 0.055sec off a podium spot! So much talent.
At the end of the day Dak finished in ninth in the overall, meaning that he will be a protected rider at the first race of the season next year. For Joe it was 49th and Seth 55th. We must take this opportunity to give a MASSIVE shout out and thank you to the team for the 2023 season. To Aaron, Dak, Joe and Seth, to Todd, Jon, James, Mike and of course John Hall. Only seven months to go until the 2024 season starts!