After racing success in Loudenvielle, then victory at the US Open, the INTENSE Factory Racing team carried on that momentum into Snowshoe (USA) and round 7 of the Downhill World Cup.
Let’s cut straight to it, Dak Norton claimed third spot on the treacherous rocky slopes out in West Virginia on the new INTENSE M1. It was an epic ride on a track of two halves, flatter and smoother at the top, rocky as hell lower down. Not as steep as some of the more traditional European courses, Snowshoe was all about carrying speed and keeping your momentum, which was easier said than done in the damp conditions that racer’s faced for most of the week. The flatter top section required one style of riding, whilst the ‘rock fest’ lower down needed an altogether different approach. Get slightly off line, or hit a rock at just the wrong angle and you could lose all your speed (or worse), which you needed to carry you through the next section.
And the rocky section claimed many riders, most notably series leader Loic Bruni in his finals run. It also claimed IFR rider Joe Breeden (above). After a solid qualifier that saw him finish safely inside the top 60 in 36th place, all was looking good for his semi. Coming into one of the many rock sections, and off a drop, he just seemed to lose power in his arms, or maybe slid his front tire a little, drifting slightly to his right and he then hit a tree. At the previous spilt (three) he was right on the bubble in 30th position, but with his right hand brake lever pointing skywards it was game over. What could have been.
“Not the way I wanted to end my week in Snowshoe, this crash in semi’s put me out of contention for the final. Still struggling with bad with arm pump. I have to find a solution this off-season.” Joe Breeden
Team mate Seth Sherlock (above) had the race of his life. Qualifying in 39th was a good start, but then to finish 19th in the semis was pretty amazing. Seth was through to the finals. He’s not had an easy time of it this season, so his 23rd place finish was much deserved. It was a mature ride on such a tricky track.
“First World Cup back from injury and it feels damn good to be back in the mix right away with my career best result! Nothing else to say really, huge confidence booster for MSA so feeling great coming into that.” Seth Sherlock
And then Dak (above), what can you say. At his home race the pressure was always going to be on. It’s never easy having to perform in front of a home crowd, but perform he did. Fourth in qualifying showed that he was happy, but semis!!!
All was looking good. Then on a rather ‘normal’ looking right hander, still high up the track, Dak went down. Like properly down, not just a dab of his foot, or a stall. He was down on the ground and off his bike. With Dak not being a protected rider into the finals it looked at first that his race was done. Somehow he went from 38th at split 2, to 25th at split 3, then 13th at split 4, to eventually finish in 5th place. He was on fire. And don’t forget, this was just the semis.
“I lay on the ground… I crashed in the dumbest spot. I turned-in trying to sprint… and absolutely blew it” Dak Norton (c/o Wyn TV)
With the new format of semis and finals on the same day there is barely time to think before you have to be back up to the start gate. The course now had dried considerably compared to earlier in the week, there were still a few damp spots, but on the whole it was dry and running fast.
Quite a few riders had fallen on a simple looking sweeping left hander, so it was quite a nervy waiting for Dak to come down through that section. Split 1 and he was up by just -0.028 sec, but then a splits 2 and 3 he went into the red, first by +1.050 and then +1.637 sec. It looked to be going away from him. Then coming out of the final rock section and onto the flat sprint the clock went green by the minutest of margins, -0.004. Could this be the fairytale finish… yes… kind of. Crossing the line Dak slotted into first place -0.435 sec ahead of Bernard Kerr… and the crowd went wild!
Unfortunately the victory celebrations were short lived, as the next man down the hill, Irishman Ronan Dunne, took over the hot seat by 0.867 sec. Next was Loris Vergier… nope, then another Irishman, Oisin O’Callaghan, did the unthinkable and bettered Dunne’s time. With just Loic Bruni left to start Dak was guaranteed a top four finish. When Bruni clipped a tree with his bar and went down the race was done, O’Callaghan had won his (and Ireland’s) first ever Downhill World Cup and Dak had claimed third spot. It was a fairytale of sorts.
“You know, coming into this race it was one of the first times that I believed that I could win. (Being in the USA) there was a lot of pressure on me. They were playing the national anthem at the start, saying ‘Dak, you got it, don’t let us down’. It’s very difficult to deal with, but they just want to see you do well and you have to separate yourself from that pressure.” Dak Norton (c/o Wyn TV)
Once again downhill racing didn’t disappoint. The whole World Cup circus now heads almost 1,000 miles north to Mont-Sainte-Anne and the final round of this year’s World Cup this coming Saturday (Oct 7th).