Sensational Spaniard Toni Bou - Repsol Honda powered to his fourth qualification win of the 2018 FIM Trial World Championship this afternoon at TrialGP Great Britain at Addingham Moorside, high above the Yorkshire town of Silsden, as his compatriot Sandra Gomez - Gas Gas completed her qualification clean sweep in TrialGP Women.
Comprising an almost never-ending series of huge boulders separated by slick, grassy areas, the qualification section for the seventh and penultimate round of the championship was ringed by vocal fans. With the sun beaming down and the crowd ten-deep in places the atmosphere was electric as the World's best Trial riders fought it out to see who would get the advantage of starting at the back of the field in tomorrow's points-paying event.
"I like the qualifying system," says Bou, who looks odds-on to sew-up his twelfth consecutive title tomorrow. "It is expensive if you make a mistake, but when you take the pole it is incredible and it is fantastic for the public. I had some little problems early in the year in qualifying, but I have now taken my fourth pole and I'm happy for this. Starting tomorrow in the last position is very important for me."
Starting second in the all-important Q2 session following his shock maximum in Q1, Spain's Jaime Busto - Gas Gas set the early pace and was still in the hot seat with just James Dabill - Beta, Adam Raga - TRRS and Bou to go. Roared on by his home fans, Dabill launched a full-bore assault and punched the air as he stayed clean and knocked almost a second off Busto's time.
Dabill's joy was short-lived, however, as Spain's silky-smooth Raga immediately shaved 0.7 off his time before Bou danced his way across the crests of the rocks to go top with a time over a second faster.
There was almost a British winner in TrialGP Women where defending champion Emma Bristow - Sherco, who won Q1 by over six seconds, came within a few centimetres of victory in Q2 until her front wheel washed out and she needed a single dab which dropped her to eighth. Her time was over two-and-a-half seconds quicker than Gomez, but observation is key in qualification and Bristow - who is hoping to claim her fifth title in a row tomorrow - will be fourth away. "I'm so happy to win all the qualifications this year," says Gomez, "but the Trial is tomorrow so let's see."
Gomez was over five-and-a-half seconds clear of runner-up Theresa Bauml - Montesa from Germany with Britain's Donna Fox - Montesa, who was enjoying a wild card ride following her last TrialGP appearance in 2016, getting the fans on their feet in third ahead of Spain's Maria Giro - Montesa.
Trial2 series leader Toby Martyn - Montesa claimed a hugely-popular Q2 home win by more than a second from Norway's Hakon Pedersen - Gas Gas. Starting last after his victory in Q1, the eighteen-year-old blasted off the line like a motocross racer with winning clearly the only thing on his mind. "We've had a very good start," says Martyn. "Winning quali one and quali two is a first for me and it will make a big difference tomorrow. Lines will be in place and we'll be going for the win."
Martyn's main championship challenger Matteo Grattarola - Honda had led early on, but the veteran Italian was pushed back to a disappointing seventh as Spain's Gabriel Marcelli - Montesa snatched third from Britain's Dan Peace - Gas Gas.
There was another British winner for the partisan home fans to cheer with Hannah Styles - Vertigo claiming a comfortable victory by 0.81 in Trial2 Women over American favourite Maddie Hoover - Gas Gas. The twenty-five-year-old, who is making her comeback to top-flight Trial after an absence of seven years, didn't put a wheel wrong in Q2 as she rose to the challenge. "I really enjoyed it," says Styles. "It's my first time back for about seven years so it has been quite a shock as I didn't know what to expect. I was also a bit nervous so it is great to get the win."
Norwegian Hanne Haga - TRRS was third from Germany's Rosita Leotta - Beta with runaway series leader Alex Brancati - Beta slumping to thirteenth after parting with a stray dab.
The stage is now set for tomorrow's main event when at least two - and possibly even four - of the 2018 FIM Trial World Championship titles will be decided.