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Valentina Höll obliterates Crankworx downhill field, Miranda Miller fights to bronze

Six years after her watershed World Cup win, Squamish’s Miller gets it done at the Canadian Open Downhill

Nineteen seconds.

That’s how much faster Valentina Höll was than Louise Ferguson, the Scottish athlete who earned silver on July 23 at the Canadian Open Downhill. Go one step further down the podium to bronze medallist Miranda Miller, and the gap is 21 seconds. 

What about fourth and fifth? Forget it. Höll beat Australia’s Ellie Smith and Comox’s Emmy Lan by a whopping 27 seconds and change.

That’s not just a victory. That’s an incineration of a women’s mountain bike field brimming with high-end talent.

Höll, one of Austria's top speed phenoms, boasted four consecutive Crankworx downhill wins on home soil going into Sunday, causing many to dub her "the Queen of Innsbruck." Now, she can add Whistler gold to her impressive trophy case thanks to her eyebrow-raising time of four minutes and 12.913 seconds. 

It’s not as if either of the other podium finishers rode poorly. Ferguson impressed in her own right (4:32.311) and Miller turned back the clock to make her hometown Squamish backers proud (4:34.313). 

‘Big and sendy’ 

Appearing remarkably relaxed throughout most of her run, Höll put her patented turbo boost on full display in Creekside. The 21-year-old was up just 2.5 seconds on then-race leader Ferguson at the first time checkpoint, but rolled onward like a snowball gaining momentum. By the time checkpoint No. 2 rolled around, Höll’s lead had ballooned to 15 seconds and she simply did not look back. 

Despite her dominance, the Austrian remained humble and expressed an appreciation for Stevie Smith, the late Vancouver Island rider who won an overall UCI World Cup title in 2013 and devoted his life to mountain biking. 

“It’s an honour to be a part of this kind of stuff even though I didn’t get to meet Stevie in person,” said Höll in a press release. “To see the Canadians following in his footsteps and to see what he did for the Canadian kids is amazing! The track definitely shows you how gnarly Stevie Smith was as a rider, because it’s super full on, it’s so hard, but it’s also really Canadian.” 

Likewise, Ferguson came away with a very healthy respect for the 1199 course and all of its twists and turns. “It was crazy long from top to bottom,” she remarked. “There’s big features and lots of tech, so you can’t really switch off and rest anywhere. Definitely one of the gnarliest tracks I’ve raced, but also one of the best.” 

“It was a pretty challenging weekend,” Miller added. “It's a brand new track. The holes are big, the features are big and sendy. It's been a few years since I've done a high-level downhill race, so I think with that in mind, I'm proud of how I was able to perform.

"Vali Höll, she cranked us. The fact that I get to stand on a podium with her is pretty special. You know, I'm 33, so I might not have a lot of these moments left."

Return to form

Indeed, Miller is no spring chicken. She’s built a respectable career split between downhill and enduro and is known among her peers as a tireless worker. The Squamolian has displayed longevity and resilience despite a bevy of past injuries, including multiple broken wrists in a single season.

Perhaps the brightest feather in Miller's cap remains the 2017 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. She locked up Canada’s first elite downhill world title in 27 years in Cairns, fending off two-time world champ Myriam Nicole of France in the process. 

Miller has focused primarily on enduro in recent times, and going into Sunday’s Canadian Open was three or four years removed from her last elite downhill contest. She wound up second in seeding and paced herself well throughout her run, displaying considerable technical prowess. 

Discretion is oftentimes the better part of valour, which is why Miller opted to play it safe in the bottom portion of the track. 

“Halfway down, I had to really shut her down,” she explained. “It was feeling a little loose and I was like: ‘I just need to get to the bottom.’ I think it was just how relentless this course is.” 

Unlike younger stars such as Höll and Ferguson, Miller’s competitive heyday overlapped with that of Smith. Despite all the time away, few things on Earth were going to keep her from racing on a track named and designed in his honour. 

“Stevie was a good friend of mine, and to have his legacy immortalized in the greatest bike park in the world is pretty special,” she said. 

U19 action

There are certainly more young female downhillers today than there were a decade ago, something Miller notices and celebrates. Several such ladies got to strut their stuff in what turned out to be an all-Canadian U19 lineup. 

Fernie’s Joy Attalla opened up an even bigger lead on her field than Höll did against pros, claiming a decisive victory as the only U19 woman to get anywhere near the five-minute mark (4:58.437). Rebecca Beaton was a distant second (5:31.167) but did squeak out a close one over third-place finisher Quinzee Elsberg (5:32.918). 

It’s been a big few months on the bike for Beaton, who at May’s end helped her fellow Pemberton Secondary School (PSS) students to their second consecutive B.C. High School Mountain Biking Championship. She also gives back to her sport by mentoring fellow Spud Valley teens in a program called Girls on Wheels (GOW) in conjunction with the Pemberton Off-Road Cycling Association (PORCA).

Now, Beaton is at Crankworx showing her peers what’s possible. 

“It’s so cool to be able to ride a track like this, to see girls who are U17 and U15 on a track that has the pros like: ‘this is so scary, this is so gnarly’,” she said. “Just to make it to the bottom and say ‘we did that’ is so cool.

“I went into this year not really knowing what to expect, and now I know that it's possible [to win medals]. I'm having so much fun on my bike and I’m just stoked for more.” 

Full results are available online. Check back in with Pique Newsmagazine for more Crankworx Whistler coverage throughout the week.