Two World Champion Titles for British Downhillers!

Two World Champion Titles for British Downhillers!

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From the emergence of first-time winners Danny Hart and Manon Carpenter in downhill, to Annie Last's second consecutive under-23 cross country silver and Rachel Atherton's fifth medal, last week Britain enjoyed its most successful mountain bike World Championships.

Winning a rainbow jersey every year since 2007, Britain's mountain bike legacy runs back to Ruaridh Cunningham who took the junior title in the first home-nation Worlds at Fort William, before four medals were won in the 2008 Championships at Val di Sole - Rachel and Gee Atherton taking home the senior downhill honours, Josh Bryceland winning the junior downhill and a certain Danny Hart picking up a bronze medal in the same category in 2009.

Steve Peat won his first ever world title after a distinguished career at Canberra in 2009

But two years before Hart could write his own history, a little unfinished business remained - Steve Peat and Tracy Moseley taking their long-awaited senior downhill rainbow stripes in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Include 2011's jersey haul and it totals eight World Championship titles in five years - and that's before counting a further twelve silver and bronze medals.

Tracy Moseley won her World title at Mont St Anne in 2010

But what makes British mountain biking - and particularly downhill - so successful?

Success breeding success and a hugely strong domestic scene is the answer from Si Paton, organiser of the Halo British Downhill Series - which will welcome Hart, Capenter and their rainbow stripes for a first showing later this year.

Manon Carpenter after her World Title win in the Junior Downhill race in Champery last weekend

"I think the British scene is amazing, 25% of the top 80 qualifiers in the World Cup this year have been Brits and the Halo British Downhill Series is the stepping stone.

"The race scene is so strong because there are no chairlifts - if you have a downhill bike you either race, or aspire to race. Uplift days and regional racing are the grassroots of British downhill and you can go through the ranks until you are World Champion.

"The 2011 Series sold out in two days and spectator numbers are increasing all the time. If you're a rider, you can share an uplift with any one of the eight World Champions from the past five years, before following them down the track. That makes for a great atmosphere."

And following in the pattern of downhill - which has seen nearly half of its medals won by junior riders - British Cycling's Olympic Mountain Bike Coach, Phil Dixon is hopeful the likes of young, talented British cross country riders, such as Annie Last and Grant Ferguson, will inspire a bigger British cross country racing scene.

Annie Last with her second consecutive U23 XC World Championship silver medal

"The riders we have coming through now are starting to put cross country on the map" said an upbeat Dixon, following Last's second consecutive under-23 silver medal at the World Championships, a top five finish by junior Grant Ferguson and a progressive ride by under-23 Kenta Gallagher.

"Today you have several World-class riders, all with international experience and backing up Liam Killeen. As a performance programme, 2011 has been the best year ever and has shown real progression for British mountain biking."

BRITAIN'S GREAT MOUNTAIN BIKING ENVIRONMENT
Of course, a great British environment for mountain biking is also a key reason for British success - in the late nineties trail centres were seen as pioneering and divisive, but today form a key part of the world-wide mountain bike landscape with British facilities leading the way.

From Fort William and Dalby's publicly accessible international standard race tracks, to Scotland's 7Stanes and a plethora of Welsh and English trail centres and free-to-use Forestry Commission sites - not forgetting the National Parks like the Lake District, Peak District, Dartmoor, Exmoor, the North and South Downs -mountain biking in Britain presents endless opportunities to get out and ride.