RD 8: Mont Sainte Anne, Canada
Just like that, the 2023 Downhill World Cup season finale was upon us. The Iconic venue of Mont Sainte Anne in Quebec, was the chosen venue, as is tradition and what a perfect backdrop for the most exciting race of the season.
The Continental Nukeproof Factory racing team had made the trip over from Snowshoe (via the annual extremely competitive DH WC go kart race), with podiums in their sights following Ronan Dunne's incredible career best in West Virginia, it was clear to see the team were feeling positive and what a weekend it turned out to be.
The backdrop of Mont Saint Anne has always been spectacular but Fall time really provided the goods for 2023, the perfect Autumn colours the lake that sits below the track creating the perfect ampitheatre for the Finale. The serenity of the surroundings however was kept strictly outside the tape, as the infamous track that honours the Late great Stevie Smith was unrelentingly rough as usual, throw in some typically Autumnal weather and it was quite the setting.
Friday saw practise and qualifying get underway with all but Chris Cumming qualifying, Chris was just two spots off the top 60, a painful situation to be in but leaves Mont Saint Anne with renewed vigour for the winter off season.
With Louise and Veronica first to go in Semi-Finals, the track was still dry and dusty in parts, with the all important rock slabs dry and grippy, key to carrying speed and a confident run. Louise went in feeling confident, knowing the the inclement weather incoming would play to her favour. This was short lived with a puncture in the first split dashing her podium hopes for Mont Saint Anne. A tough pill to swallow for Lou who has worked incredibly hard this season as her first full year in Elite. Louise returns to New Zealand for the off season with fire in her belly for the 2024 season.
Team mate Veronika Widmann has grown in confidence this season, working hard on her mindset. Semi-Finals demonstrated this perfectly, with a great 4th place instilling the confidence that the hard work was paying off going into Finals later that day.
Last of the team to drop for Semi-Finals was Ronan Dunne, fresh off his 2nd place in Snowshoe, Ronan knew he wasn't willing to settle for anything other than a podium. His commmitment was clear from the moment he dropped in, however, this wasn't to be with a small crash hampering his chances of hassling the top steps. Given Ronan's consistency he is however protected and progressed into the Finals regardless of his position.
A few short hours later and the predicted weather has reared its ugly head, drenching the track just in time for the Elite Women to drop in. Following the first few riders, it was clear a strategy was needed to take on this track in the wet. Jack Chapman, Vero Widmann's long time trusted mechanic who goes to the start hut with Vero, mentioned quietly that there was a lot of trouble developing in the off camber rock sections with falling leaves adding to the slick conditions and to take it steady and confidently.
It was clear to see Vero's confidence in her run, pushing herself in the open sections whilst remaining dialled in the technical sections, this proved to be the perfect recipe for the run of Vero's career. As the splits continued to come through green as Vero was nearing the end of the track, excitement was building in the Continental Nukeprof team at the finish line. Vero goes fastest! With only a handful of riders to dop in, Vero instantly knew she had just secured herself a podium position.
As the final riders crossed the finish line, Vero's time in the hot-seat was growing. Vali Hoel secured the overall and the win with Nina Hoffmann taking the 2nd spot and Veronika Widmann landing herself a career best position of 3rd in the final World Cup of the year.
An incredible moment for Vero and the whole team.
As one of the youngest teams in the Elite World Cup Downhill circuit, the Continental Nukeproof Factory Racing team have achieved incredible things this season. Two athletes with career best podiums, a 4th position at World Champs and at least one rider in every final at every round and the most welcoming pits out there.
What started life as a small family team from Ireland has grown to be one of the most successful teams on the World Cup Circuit.
Over and out for the 2023 season, we'll be back with more photo epics in 2024.
Check out the Continental Nukeproof Factory team in action
Watch the highlights from each round here