Actual Rule & Organisation changes
Probably the biggest change of note is for ladies racing. The top 5 ladies in the “current” overall standings get “Group A” practice for 2019; a change that should of happened long ago. For those that don’t know the WC practice sessions are split into two groups, A and B with B usually being juniors, ladies and elite men ranked outside the top 115 or so (this changes depending on entry numbers), Since 2018 the top 10 junior men get Group A practice on Friday and a spot in the timed training session but then get shoved back into Group B from Saturday. Historically the ladies have always been given the rough end of the stick getting Group B practice for all sessions. This means usually eating breakfast at around 0630 most days to then get body and bike ready for practice at 0800; with early season April or late season September events not to mention potential ice-cold Alpine mornings mid-summer Group B get a rough start, having to bed in a track while also dealing with cold tyres and suspension. Only to get back on track the next day to find to totally decimated by the top dogs in Group A. Anyways, long story short the top 5 ladies are now in Group A all weekend long AND get an extra hour more than any other riders on race day morning too. So a plus for the ladies as environment nurtures performance, genotype/phenotype etc… So this, at least in my opinion, a big positive change for the sport. Exact details and issues TBC!
Elsewhere after Tahnée Seagrave’s DSQ in Leogang 2018 the “outside” the tape rule has again been re-written for clarity (after being changed toa far more rigid rule after Rachel Atherton’s out of course victory in Windham 2015). The rule now reads that the course must be protected with tape or barriers and “If a rider exits the course for any reason, he/she must return to the course between the same two course markers where he/she exited. In case a rider fails to return to the course as provided for in this article, the commissaires’ panel can disqualify the rider.”
This is quite a change from the previous version of the rule; now more specific and reintroduces the possibility of interpretation
The other rule(s) of note are to do with final runs, qualifying and TV. Last years bonafide shit show race run orders based off of qualifying but not should now be sorted. Basically the Top 10 from last years overall are protected from the year and as such will most likely always be on RB TV. The next best 10 in the current seasons overall standings are also protected (same as last year) but now any 5 riders who are not in either of the two previous groups who qualified in the top 5 will take their spot in reverse order in finals as it was until 2018. Sorted!
No need to mention the wheel-size rule change as it has been well covered!
Same old, but different – there’s always been the need, want and desired for riders to brush of winter cobwebs and hit some pre-season events, sun, dust or not. Mainly aiming for any race on a rough track that allows you to ramp up the real-deal intensity and get a feel for what racing is again (just simply to remind yourself you have not forgotten) and dig into the limitations of your off-season preparations to date.
Not that stakes are any higher than before now – but it does seem that budgets are growing for many teams and as such pre-season racing for many seems to now come book ended with testing camps – something like; ride, test, race, rest, ride and test! Big commitment and if the races to date this season are anything to go by it is working for more than a few.
Proof in pudding comes this Sunday in Maribor and as is always the case the environment and surroundings of a World Cup mean even the best of pre-season testing camps can leave you short changed if basic emotions are not managed and the “P’s” ticked off.
Past, Present and Potential
This section could meander on for hours, thousands of words… on the tip of my tongue though as i write this though is thoughts of generations. The 2019 season, if you whip out the start list, has, in all elite categories a volatile mix of abilities and generations; maybe it’s happened before? But 2019 has rapid first and second year juniors in elite men, old dogs like Minnaar and Gwin with no shortage of pace, race winners and podium killers like Vergier, Pierron, Shaw, Iles, Walker and Greenland all give or take the same rip young age with a stack of riders spanning the years between Minnaar as patriarche and kids like Kade Edwards fresh out of juniors. The mix of pace, power, poise, experience and wildness is pretty crazy. Coming back to the point above though about team camps, racing and testing many juniors now have the backing, support structures and team-mates to help transfer experience that the junior – elite transition can be lightning fast!
I’m not gonna say names; but some pre-season form has been clear from about 5 elite male riders; beyond that I think a mix of last years break-outs and stand-outs, the wise old dogs and the wild youth is gonna give us a varied top 10 at every race.
Junior times will be compared to elites, even quicker than before by the eagle eyed fan and team managers.
The ladies racing was struck a huge blow with Myriam Nicoles injury but Seagrave, Atherton, a fitter Tracey Hannah, a comfy looking Cabirou and a dangerous Hrastnik will hopefully battle hard. Siegenthaler and two to three others including Morgane Charre can easily be in the mix.
Wheelin’ n’ Dealin’
Less caring about wheel diameter the better please!
Making a “habit” of something is the more sure fire way to really grow and learn with any technique or method. There is probably a lesson in there somewhere about how you can apply daily small “micro-goals” or “processes” to your big 2019 new years resolutions – thus turning positive actions in habits. But really this post is all about the yearly task of reflecting on what was the best ride of the year just gone. 2018 for some reason, didn’t feel as “successful” as 2017. On paper it was more successful and rolling into 2019 there are many small details that actually drill home to me how productive a year it was for the riders I work with. Maybe it was that many of the 2018 successes where genuinely hard fought; maybe they were more hard fought because our preparation wasn’t as good as it could have been? Potentially more reflection required!!
Well the reason I do this every year is because time and again for a variety of reasons I am reminded by the simple task of riding bikes with friends that that is the true reason behind all the long hours of planning, training and meticulous preparation. the true reason for the endless square eyed hours behind the lap-top, the hours spent studying scientific journals old and new, the hours spent doubting coaching choices and decisions, the hours spent in total confusion as to the best decision to make. All of it, every last second is actually really only made worthwhile because of the love I and the riders I coach share for riding bicycles down mountains. It’s the reason why “coaching”, at least from my perspective, has to always go beyond “physical preparation”, always strive for more than S&C, aim higher than physiological buckets. Integrate and Complement. Riding bikes as fast as you can down hills is holistic, therefore coaching must always respect the whole more than the parts. Simple.
Below are a selection of some of the best rides of 2018….the title winner is at the bottom! Helping to build the French Champs DH track on Le Pléney here in Morzine was awesome. A fantastic experience to help grow the sport in my adopted home town. It was made all the sweater by getting to ride day 1 practice with Greg Callaghan. Of a similar vain was getting to smash a days practice at Crankworx Les Gets DH with Killian Callaghan, another long standing Point1 athlete. A big day of riding with Kelan Grant at Ainsa EWS was prety tasty also.
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The HAM Cam. Don't think I've ever gone so fast on a bicycle….@crankworx Les Gets DH is FAST… ☇ following @killiancallaghan here getting himself a seriously quick education in all things DH @nukeproofbikes @rideshimano @foxracingeurope @high5sportsnutrition #mtb #SHIMANORIDER #ridefox #foxracingeurope #crankworx #gainzzz #dh #alps #gopro #followcam #gains #fast #lesgets #pleney #nukeproof #enjoyresponsibly
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Throwback to the most Enduro ridgeline in Europe… Stage 5 from this years @world_enduro in Ainsa, Spain. Practicing with the main man from Omagh, @kelangrant @nukeproofbikes @foxracingeurope @rideshimano @shimanomtb @high5sportsnutrition #fox #ridefox #36 #enjoyresponsibly #itsanattitude #nukeproof #ews #ainsa #worldenduro #cutline #frenchline #dh #mtb #gopro #gopro5 #gopro7 #goprohero #shimanorider
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Last #morginsmonday of 2018? Probably most likely the best days riding of 2018. Following @kade_2000 down some high speed goodness at @bikeparkchamperymorgins Can't wait for 2019 laps. Merry Christmas ya filthy animals @nukeproofbikes @foxracingeurope @rideshimano @high5sportsnutrition #dh #alps #shimanorider #gopro #goprohero #nukeproof #foxmtb #ridefox #enjoyresponsibly
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I lied there's one last chance for a #morginsmonday. Got unessecsary mileage out of that #hashtag but it is the kind of place that makes sure you remember the real reasons everyone races push bikes. Definition of awesome Thanks for one of the most awesome days of 2018 @kade_2000 @tahneeseagrave @veroniquesandler @bikeparkchamperymorgins Thanks to the rad @nukeproofbikes @shimanomtb @foxracingeurope @high5sportsnutrition
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Because it's Monday why not give it another #morginsmonday shredding dreamy laps with your new Junior world Champ @kade_2000 and his better half @tahneeseagrave in @bikeparkchamperymorgins 😂. Rad times with awesome humans #laps #foxmtb #dh #shimanorider #morgins #portesdusoleil #downhill #summer #dust #slappinbass #gopro #goprohero #gopro5
Over the past two years we have contributed fitness, training and technical development content to every issue of MBUK – https://www.mbuk.com/
If you have not seen or read any of the articles or don’t live somewhere with access to MBUK you’ll be pleased to find out that the guys over at “Bike Radar” (sister web publication to MBUK) have started sharing some of those MBUK articles in web-form! Links below.
Somewhere between reflection and hindsight, “Anatomy of a Race track” have been a staple in post-race analysis for us in 2018. With many repeat venues and repeat tracks on the UCI World Cup circuit it has proved pretty fruitful to dig into the key characteristics and core features that (or break) these tracks. Having these “anatomoy” posts to look back on and review before we hit the same venue again or even race at different tracks that have similar characteristics allows us to set tactics for practice and racing that meet strategic goals.
The usefulness of digging into the core features of a given track is probably a lot less “rigid” than I’m making it sound but in a nutshell lines, sectors, sections, tactics and techniques needed can be more readily quantified and qualified if we use some standardised review and reflect systems… Anatomy of a Race Track is just that. Review & Reflect.
For your conviencene here’s the 2018 season’s crop of AoaRT all in one spot for your scrolling pleasure. Comments & Questions welcome. Enjoy.
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Anatomy of a Race Track – Lenzerheide, Switzerland Sliced right through the guts of a bike-park, within trails that are as flow simple as bike park gets, but the Lenzerheide world cup track ain't parky no more After three mid-summer trips to the same venue and track on the UCI 3+1 deal we finally got ourselves to Lenzerhide in early September for World Championships. Gone were the blistering hot sun and dust bowl conditions of previous July's and in-slid changeable weather, 0730 starts and all the other World Champs weirdness By in large the same race course as previous years, we had one new, fresh cut section of merely 50m but this abrupt trip through some loamy goodness also altered the entry and exit sections meaning riders had a good 40 second stint of new puzzling to work on for race day For all the previous years talk of "park", 2018's StraighLine track was eroded, chopped, whopped and hollowed out to a proper test; not "fun" to ride or race, but a true challenge for attention, preparation, bike set up and mental acuity! Three words seem to stand out every trip to Lazerhorn. Patience, Accuracy & Focus. All neseccary on this track to deal with the loose surface and razor thin margins. Although pure downhill, Lenzerheide demands prime execution of simple riding tactics. Much focus stays on the main rock section and the plunge drop but having spent over 12 hours trackside the following jump out – Early braking before all the filthy turns under the lift; this allowed long and consistent pressure through the turns, keeping grip and generating speed – Exit Speed; with 3 "uphill" exits of key sections, lines and execution needed to work back from those points – Horse power; pedaling was rare but when needed was demanding quickly – Light – the vision was poor in many sectors; low autumn light and the transition from high speed open to dappled woods meant track walk attention and visual scanning was key – Precision – Directness – go straight #mtb #lenzerheide2018 #dh #shimanorider #ridefox #worldchamps
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Anatomy of a Race Track: – La Bresse, France. World Cup Finals 2018 Transplanted from the town centre to the ski-resort at Hohneck. It was 2 min + of fresh bike park gone race track. Maybe more awkward and odd at first as the taping pulled riders over the side and back of berms and into short and steep jumps at high speeds. Once day 1 practice was done the loamy nature of the top and bottom sections had riders frothing for more Hard sprint to start and to continue after the jump line. Some good "joker lane" chocie and then the now infamous steeper section as the hill broke away and dropped half of its elevation in a quarter of its distance. The consensus was positive from most. The weather made for a wild battlefield though and after a fair and square qualifications in tricky wet conditions. Finals gave us a mixed back of wet to sticky for the elite men. The track once wet demanded even more physically from riders. The cold temperatures compounded this and as is so often the case a potentially poor track was turned world class fast @nukeproofbikes @foxracingeurope @rideshimano @shimanomtb @high5sportsnutrition #shimanorider 📸 – @mozim ^ @danhearn #labresse #worldcup #finals #mtb #mtbtraining #gainzzz #coaching #raceday #art #vosges
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Anatomy of a Race Track // Mont Sainte Anne 2018 The classic; no substitute possible. MSA is long, rough and fast. In its current "modern classic" layout it's over four minutes of big hits and wild times that demand intelligent riding, pristine tactics and some solid conviction & commitment to race run strategy 2018 must have seen MSA have a harsh winter & wet spring because the first comments on track-walk on Wednesday were mainly about how beat up and rough and raw the track was. Minus the new "Tarzan" section the whole hill was sharp, rough edged, loose and just crying out for tyres to hit it and clean it up on it's way to becoming a true world class challenge The HUGE storms that rolled into afternoon practice on Thursday were followed by blistering sun and high winds on Friday, which gave us a rapidly drying track in the open, but with just enough tree cover in the woods things on the more technical and precise terrain remained moist right through to race day morning The fast drying open sections though now had huge ruts, once soft and pliable the soon become rigid and deep, meaning even more demands on core and torso strength and more potential for fatigue inducing rapid bracing As conditions kept evolving every practice session counted, knowing what you were gonna face pre-quali and finals was crucial, as was adapting to what was dished up in those runs. This meant your mental and physical management strategies needed to be robust. Meaning adaptable in the face of stress & duress Reflecting on how the fastest racers executed their runs the "key" sections were under tree cover; the main wooded section not on RB TV had enough features on the floor to separate the best from the rest, the new Tarzan section was super short but viciously tricky; one key lines millimetre demands catching out some of the worlds best; the classic Les Dalles section as tricky and crucial as ever, with the exit speed from here defining much of your speed carried to the finish line. Pump through the final forest where we find Minnaar's Gap and plough to the line, the final sector of track only being 40 sec long but exposing both poor execution & fitness #mtb #msa #msaworldcup
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Anatomy of a Race Track // Vallnord, Andorra 5 years young and beaten to death. The local climate means massive rain storms and harsh winters take advantage of the smallest of rut and eroded it 1 metre deep. Soft dirt is scarce and for 2018s race track it was huge holes, big impacts and big commitment needed from top to bottom If you've never been in person, Redbull TV show only the bottom half of the track. The top half is straight and fast…Fast Right at the start because of a 20+ second max effort pedal at 1900m altitude. This peaks the system.and has the valves bouncing as you hit the forst wooden bridge. From there it's massive commitment to high speed straights that are littered with features from tiny roots and rocks that easily catch you out to big hits and high lines. A brief respite with some jumps in the open before plunging back into the forest where we had a much needed new direction in the taping…Fast and straight. It causes lots of crashes early in practice as many riders attempts at a high line or poor memory from track walk caught them off guard….From here the tv picks up the riders and things get rockier and then progressively steeper in the woods. The race can be turned knits head in the bottom 2 sectors but only won if you have solid, consistent top sectors @lorisvergier put on a masterclass…one of the best runs we have seen in years. @tahneeseagrave executed a flawless strategy and capitalised on the agression of others The impacts and g forces in Vallnord are massive a a well conditioned riders split times will show it. Wild times #mtb #mtbtraining #gainzzz #coaching #mbworldcup #shimanorider #shimanomtb #shimano #ucimtbwc #high5fuelled #foxmtb #foxheadeurope #foxracingeurope #potatocam #vallnord #andorra #downhill #racing #worldcup #groupBForlife PC – Red Bull Content Pool
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Anatomy of a Race Track // Val di Sole 2018 A modern classic. Tapped near identical to the desert dusty 2017 race track. 2018 saw a filthy wet start to what was already a blown out trail with much less dirt than previous years meaning riders could see all the tasty nasty features that littered every section of track. Instead of hidden sniper roots and rocks, riders could see every last trail detail that make line choice a delicate balance between direct and consistent. Repeatable or rowdy Flat-out "park" from the start gate to the first woods it's here the terrain breaks and riders hit the first parcel of forest. Funneled into a supreme set of nibbly kinks into a brief and tight uphill left hander from there it is flat out, big hits, fast and crucial chnages if direction, rocks, roots and all slick as snot for Day 1 practice After Passing under the gondola for a multi line steep section the track cuts steadily down and then across the hill. Bringing us to the point where the tv cameras pick up the action. From here things get steep and the impacts get much bigger. Big holes, big hits and come race day a tricky, dusty surface that meant braking points and direction where crucial to a succesful race run. Ploughing clean out of the forest at Mach 10 saw the end if the final sector of the course where the ladies race was won and many positions shuffled in the men's field. Straight forward high speed turns to the finish but execution totally altered by the accumulated fatigue of 4 mins of max intensity sprinkled over 3 days of practice @nukeproofbikes @foxracingeurope @rideshimano @shimanomtb @high5sportsnutrition #mtb #SHIMANORIDER #ridefox #foxracingeurope #mbworldcup #ucimtbwc
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Anatomy of a Race Track – Leogang, Austria. 2018 was a vintage year for all things bikepark. Strips of fresh meadow and some better direction on the taping meant we had a savage piece of race track Moist conditions leading up to practice day 1 had groups A and B cutting in totally differnet lines, the forecast rain never really happened so a steadily drying track meant speeds creeped up and times down over each of the 3 days timed sessions That soft start to practice meant we had some big holes forming at key braking points and once that happens we also get some smart and creative lines that avoid the big impacts and allow the bike to stay settled and rider to deal with less impact and vibrations Speeds are always high in Leogang and the motorway this year was no differnet. With the tail wind for race day scrubbing and brake checking was needed if you wanted to find backside but none the less some scary moments were had Unlike years previous no one sector defined the race. With the fresh sections up top and some tasty taping lower down doing the job. After this year's showing and rumours of brand new woods for the 2020 world Champs most riders are stoked on a return to Leogang #mtb #ShimanoRider #nukeproof #foxracing #foxmtb #high5fuelled #foxmtb #foxracingeurope #worldcup #ucimtbwc #mbworldcup #whipitwednesday
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Anatomy of a Race Track – Losînj, Croatia – @_losinjworldcup_ The keyboard warriors had a field day, school was out and finger tips were fired up when the first helmet cam footage appeared on the Internet. Too easy, flat, a motorway, damn street section….those were the words used by those who'd never set foot on the wee Croatian island. Those of us who'd seen it pre world cup knew better As a race track it was used before but never by so many world class riders. The chnages made by the course builders meant the average speeds creeped up just enough that the precious momentum needed to travel over the massive square edge rocks could also be turned into big preloaded hops that allowed whole sections be jumped. As one world Champ said though the speed to skip or float over the terrain as you can in places like MSA was never gonna be there Limestone rock is always slick. But with so many loose rocks and pebbles getting ground under the force and friction of tyre ment that by quali day the limestone was becoming polished like a fine sculpture on the main lines High speed and high force pedaling at the top and bottom. Attention ans Focus on the street section payed big with huge margins being found by those prepared to work to the bitter end. Head games caused by daunting and relentless rock on rock were mainly internal for each racer. Owning your own mental game, realising that straight is fast but only if straight is consistent and managing physically all week long were core parts of executing race runs come Sunday Awkward, slick, off camber rocks with high frequency chatter quickly punctuated by square edge lumps….pretty much sums up what was an awesome race track. 10 centimètres between lines multipled the effect of good and bad choices. Risk and reward clearly presented but made more challenging by all the blind crests and takeoffs. Owning position on track before any tske off was crucial. Providing use with a world class playground yet again….contrary to the finger bashing of out keyboard bashing buddies #mtb #mtbtraining #worldcup #ucimtbwc #mbworldcup #high5fuelled #foxmtb #rideshimano #shimanorider #ridefox #losinjworldcup
I could easily kick this one off with some cheesy metaphor about rainbows leading to pots of gold, the last chance salon for glory in 2018 but in all honesty it’s just another race; and as the seasons roll on and Downhill matures further the prestige associated with the rainbow title for a DHer seems to change a little; not necessarily diminish but shift. The nationalistic flavour associated with racing for your country is something that has always made worlds unique but as the quest for race wins continues regardless of event or track and the battle among the world class for victory stays just as intense we see racers keep their formula as close to “regular” as possible. You may race for France, Germany or Canada but you’ll be pitting, staying, eating and sleeping with your trade-team just as you would at a World Cup. It’s much easier to adapt a well know system to new constraints than it is adapt to a whole new system.
There are maybe three category of “potential” World Champions come Sunday. First those carrying momentum, Atherton, Seagrave, Pierron (Amaury), Bruni, MacDonald, Hart or Brosnan. 2nd we have the unwilling or very meticulously prepared specialists, those with early season injuries or issues that meant a shift in goals, approach and timescales favoured an all or nothing season ending rainbow hunt. A once favoured French approach from the likes of Barel and Vouilloz; this is far less common in the modern age. Although with his mid-season thumb issue and favourable track-record at Lenzerhide, Aaron Gwin could be the dark-horse. Category three is the unlikely victor, the opportunist who capitalizes on their own ability framed best by a total lack of expectation, pressure and focus from teams, media and fanboys. Going back to the year 2000 and Myles Rockwell pounced at the perfect moment in Sierra Nevada, Spain to make the most of favourable wind conditions and grab himself some rainbows. Miranda Miller was perfectly positioned last year in Cairns to capitalise on the mistakes and failures of the other ladies come finals and took home a deserved set of rainbows.
The rainbow jersey is a coveted piece of attire for racers, a nightmare for some sponsors but as we all know once the clock is on the world class racers will give us a world class show regardless of jersey fear!
With the DH World Cup driven in many departments by the needs and desires of Red Bull Media House we’ve seen some positive changes over the past 4 season, out went Tissot for timing and in came Belgian firm ChronoRace. This means 4 split times on course as well as near endless “micro-splits” that RB use on the live coverage for “key sections” and the virtual straight. Sadly for the past few years Worlds sees a return of Tissot for timing and a return to 2 splits on course, a less than ideal online live timing site and as we saw with Myriam Nicole’s issues at Cairns the potential for mistakes and issues in timing – not because of a lack of work ethic but merely I feel due to a crew of timing people doing a one of race and not having the momentum and system in place from 7 WC races.
The World Cup schedule is also pretty set, once summer comes and we have double header (XCO and DHI) races the schedule is very much solid. With World Champs things change and not for the better… for whatever reason Group B DH practice starts at 0730, 30 minutes earlier than a World Cup and with September sunrise in the alps at around 0650, well the first few minutes of practice are quite sombre. Little details like that can change things drastically for some racers, others not so much, it’s all about your support network. DH racing is always on Sunday’s at Worlds and not Saturday like a World Cup – that gives us a very short Saturday A.M. practice session that for some is nigh on worthless. Closer to the World Cup DH schedule of old, where we had 3 or even 4 days of practice!
For 2018 there is a raft of rule changes for world champs also; Riders must now qualify for finals; not seeding actual qualifying. With quotas closer to the World Cup of old; 80 men, 40 women, 60 junior men, 15 junior women etc… With 35 elite female starters that means they all qualify, there are 73 junior men, so 13 unlucky racers who won’t see Sunday. The top 20 men from the World Cup overall season ending rankings are protected. The top 10 women but no protection for juniors. So with less than stable autumn alpine weather forecast in Lenzerheide will this see a return to qualifying tactics of the 90’s for the non-protected? Well no, because even with qualifying and protected status from World Cup rankings, start order for finals and qualis is determined off of UCI DH ranking; not World Cup ranking. Like I said organisational oddities.
Here’s hoping for better timing and T.V. than Cairns!
No title to defend, only a title to win…that’s always the most effective way to view racing. No matter what we will see new World Champions in the junior categories. Bruni will go for triple elite titles but his “on-form” country mates Vergier and Pierron are hungry as possible. Amaury has a seemingly viciously potent mix of youth, experience and support. Most certainly the favourite of the favourites. But a form sheet can’t only be based off of most recent results. Each track has its own unique flavour; camber, gradient, duration, soil types, rock types, pit set-up, accomodations and altitude. The complex addition of factors mean some riders preferred ways of applying and executing technique at race pace sees them rise to the top on a given track. Lenzerheide is no different; high speed, unforgiving and loose. The three previous trips we have taken here for WC’s have been in July, each time hot, sunny and extremely dusty and loose come finals. A September visit may be very different. To date Minnaar and Atherton have two wins a piece here. Nicole won last years race, alongside Minnaar in the mens with Gwin flatting while on course to victory. Aaron has been fast here but pipped by a few metres in 2016 by Danny Hart, off the boil in 2015 and ohh so close last year. Minnaar has a proven track record here, but like Aaron comes in under the radar and most certainly neither are on the form of last July, both rebuilding after mid-season arm/hand injuries.
While we have had a variety of podium finishers here Minnaar is the only male rider to have visited the podium each time the WC has stopped in Lenzerheide. Flashes of expected & unexpected brilliance from Thirion, Bruni, Greenland, Brosnan, Fearon and Lucas in editions past need to be noted also. All or nothing world champs runs are often special but bone dry midsummer conditions are not expected in 2018.
The potential for first times this year is massive, first time overall winner Pierron could polish off his season with rainbows meaning he will be the first rider ever to win his first world cup, the overall world cup and world champs in one season. Former Junior World Champs Walker and Illes could wrangler a podium. Gwin could find his first ever rainbows and Seagrave could join the small club of mainly French riders who have elite and junior titles.
The ladies form-sheet gives a Seagrave // Atherton showdown. A monumental battle for the ages. But as we saw in Cairns anything can happen. Atherton has the pressure to defend after a last round WC win and overall title. Seagrave has nothing but a race to win in front of her. Nicole, Siegenthaler and Hannah are all capable of medals and more if the circumstances are right. French world champs domination, maybe a thing of old, but with Cabirou and Ravenal in attendance a gallic jammed top 5 is possible!
The track and venue
There’s some fresh woods at the bottom of the hill but otherwise we are getting the same old “STRAIGHTline” race track. As DH demadns go it’s pretty straightforward. About three minutes in duration for the fastest men, add 25 to 30 seconds to that for the elite females. The track is fast but never overly steep or hugely rough. The bump frequency is one of the bigger demands. Altitude is on the higher side with the start line at 1905m and paddock at 1492m. Otherwise the stats are pretty vanilla – 2.3 km in length with a 413m vertical drop. Changeable weather could however make it a much rougher, wilder and slicker affair rendering certain forest sections “key” but also meaning certain high speed open sections are much less “skaty”.
The venue is nice, a high alpine farming area tuned ski crazy tourist trap. It has stunning views and good accomodation, with the chalets and apartments quite close to the track meaning a good “family” vibe all week – the sunny summer races of years past have meant good times at the lake just across from the finish line with BBQ’s and swimming for sore bodies. Single digit September temps will change some of that though. So prepping for any eventuality is needed.
Maybe a fondu finally?
Fresh venue, fresh track and maybe even some fresh approaches from some of the world’s best for World Cup Finals.
Twice in a season, new venues book ending what has been a super competitive and diverse racing year, Losinj in Croatia was not a “new” track before its world cup debut. It had hosted many Croatian and Slovenian national races but evolved in to a far more refined and demanding beast as a WC track. In stark contrast to all the keyboard warrior dribbling that surrounded the Croatian tracks apparent “easiness”, the brand new La Bresse track that greats us this week has received little attention – likely because everyone, keyboard jockeys included, have been wrapped up in the endless week in week out racing that we’ve had since June, WC’s, Crankworx, National events etc… So where does that leave us? Well we have a new track and a new venue (the 2011 World Cup was in La Bresse town, 2018 has us in the nearby Hohneck ski resort), regardless of how “bike-park” it is, how short it is or any other potential issue, it’s a fresh challenge, fresh scenery and the last chance to punch out a good result so that means BANG motivation will, for the healthy, be through the roof. Absolutely peaking.
As it is World Cup finals a lot of talk will be about points and prizes! As three of the four series overalls are already decided the battles will mainly be for the “podium” spots; 2nd overall is tight and winnable for some but really the only battle in those categories is for the race positions themselves. For every single racer come Saturday – race day will be the only thing that matters; wins and podium pictures matter most. The last title to be decided is the elite ladies. 110 points separate Tahnée from Rachel in First. After chopping the deficit down to 60 points after qualifying in MSA – Tahnée’s less than perfect finals run execution landed her in 2nd and the gap grew to 110.
Unlike all the other races this year finals in La Bresse sees no points awarded for qualifying, it’s all in for finals. 250 for the win! So after a quick bash on the Casio GX4561 – if Tahnée wins on Saturday, Rachel must finish 5th or worse in finals. As we said above; wins matter most to the racers at the cutting edge. So as every race-day gone in 2018 this Saturday will be no different.
Fresh Track (more…)
Next week will be the 21st visit for a UCI World Cup or Champs to the hallowed hills of Mont Sainte Anne just outside Beaupré, Quebec. A yearly pilgrimage that somehow doesn’t seem to to bore even the most seasoned of veteran. Possibly due to the high speeds, the easily shreddable rideable terrain regardless of a weather and the maybe more than anything else the family holiday vibe that grows as the days pass, due in no small part to the MTB community renting every chalet, house and condo along the short MSA strip!
The mountains of Quebec like those south of the border in North Eastern USA are big, but not the imposing “boom” straight up walls of rock that often great riders and racers in the European Alps. Instead MSA gives us big, shallow and long. Three potentially key ingredients that keep the race puzzle here fresh for so many, less braking more ploughing? This lack of steepness doesn’t lead to a lack of intensity though, from the first heavy pedal stroke out of the start house, down the now iconic rolling start-ramp things get fast, quickly and just keep building in momentum from there.
2017 gave us yet another round with a mixed bag of weather. The 4.00 p.m. rain party rolling in on queue again. Un-phased Aaron Gwin displayed all the calm, calculated characteristics that have led to him to wrapping up 5 overall titles to date. Riding under the rain, straighter and faster than anyone else. Bagging in the process the full quota of points on offer in the overall title battle that day.
Coming into qualifying Gwin trailed Minnaar by 253 points – 3 more than you can earn in one week’s racing. Leaving MSA the deficit between the two titans was so reduced that it left the final round in Val di Sole as an all or nothing battle. What we all learned in the process though, was that anything can and will happen and as long as you come prepared and willing, victory on race day is possible.
The 2017 ladies race in MSA was contested under fair and consistent conditions. Although on a more damp, blown out track that was considerably harder to push your limits on than then was ridden in qualifying. Qualis saw Myriam Nicole eek out a 1.491 sec margin on Tracey Hannah. When Race day rolled in though things changed. In now expected fashion Tahnée Seagrave flipped a 4+ second quali deficit into a race winning display of calculated on edge riding. 5.7 seconds faster than second place Nicole.
Rumbling in to MSA this coming week for the 2018 race the only constant is change. Maybe that’s a large part of the reason everyone is so stoked to go racing? In no particular order, on the men’s side, we have the return of Moir and Minnaar from injury, the latter has been rehabbing in style, in the most specific way possible slapping bumps on Morzine’s infamous Le Pléney. The former has already practiced at Andorra World Cup and hopefully is ready for racing. With the return of some, the biggest notable absence for MSA is 2017 winner Gwin, at least that’s the info available to hand at the moment. Race day will tell more!
Pierron (Amaury) has a healthy lead in the overall, but as 2017 thought us with 2 races left anything can happen. On fire at French Champs in Morzine, Pierron is the man to beat, even though his compatriot Vergier had one of the most stunning race runs in recent times on route to his maiden WC victory in Andorra. Luca Shaw will be as hungry as ever although a hungry not quite as grumbling as Loic Bruni’s, 2018 podium first timers Reece Wilson & Thomas Estaque will go good on the long, fast bumps of the Mont. 2017’s FTD title at MSA went to Finn Iles on a dry track, after his first elite podium in Vallnord he’ll be keen to climb a few steps higher at home. Other’s to watch closely are Harrison, MacDonald, Greenland, Pierron (Baptiste), Walker, Mulally and the Eagle Masters.
The ladies race gives us one the most interesting title battles in years – even after a DSQ in Leogang, Tahnée is just 80 points behind a resurgent Rachel Atherton. After missing two races Myriam is back, a much needed world class rider in the field. Three ladies with the pace and killer instinct needed to win but with three totally different approaches to doing so, watching how the week unfolds as we build to race day will be most interesting. The eagle eyed analyst may have seen how the split times and sector demands of the shorter and longer tracks have played out for the women this year. With a pattern emerging. MSA’s length and high speed impacts may favour the brave, but the brave and conditioned even more.
At least one new section, dubbed “Tarzan” otherwise pretty unchanged from the past 2-3 years – no matter what, racing will be fast, straight, high speed whether in or out of the woods. We would say bikes take a hammering but those days are beyond us now.
What “approach” does it take to win at MSA? Well I don’t think I’ve personally attended enough races at MSA to know the finer details just yet, but from the experience I have at the venue it’s directness and confidence on the less confidence inspiring sections that counts. Race strategy is built by race tactics…tactics for practice, for each run, for sections, for sectors and finally for the race run it self. Braking just at the right time, some call it late braking, is crucial; as carrying the huge speed generated as free momentum into the subsequent sections here is paramount. No point in not using those speeds built on the flat out piste to keep your wagon wheels ploughing over rocks and boulders as you transition from open to wooded sections.
Subtle but convincing changes of direction on the loose, fast piste sections, total conviction and commitment to line choice in the slab infested woods, wet or dry, braking just “late” enough, soft transitions from edge to edge of you tyres and no let up in the “fitness” abilities needed to take the hits, deal with the impacts and hold and coax the bike from line to line, rock to boulder!
So maybe that’s the formula, total subtle committed conviction!?
All Images – PC: @Red Bull Content Pool
This is downhill. The real deal, for two weeks only the keyboard warriors will slink away from the clavier, curl up their powerful pinkies and maybe, just maybe sit back in awe of all things DH. Drooling over the “pit-bits” photos, living dangerously vicariously through the practice days RAW footage all building towards the Red Bull T.V. climax on the Saturday! Val di Sole and Vallnord, big, wild, natural and gnarly. “Proper” DH tracks some will say, rightly so as many others will agree but that’s not quite enough to truly grasp the challenge of winning on either of the next two venues race tracks!
Val di Sole’s “black snake” race track is just over 2km in length and drops 548m, doing so at a very constant gradient, apart from the start and finish run in the track snakes it’s way down the hill in an often fuss free direct manner, steep, wild and requiring full attention at all times. The punishment dished out by the big impacts is made worse by the constant steepness, a gradient that requires a fine balance of holding your upper body in a stable posture, supported by your legs but always finely adjusting weight distribution to hit your lines, maintain traction and pound the key pockets on track that allow you to change direction, brake and do the fatest job possible. Mixing those upper body demands that see the riders hit instantaneous double G figures with the need to brake quite often but VERY precisely means hand, arm and leg fatigue are rife in practice and racing. It is as specific as fatigue gets so a healthy body, quality conditioninging program in the past weeks and months and some smart & timely recovery strategies throughout practice are key. Basically the black snake requires relaxed, precious and powerful riding, directness pays massive in time gained but it comes at a heavy price. Payhed for in physical ability and mental acuity!
In contrast, Vallnord’s WC DH Track dropping 643m from La Pal ski resort to the town of La Massana does so over a longer 2.5km! That extra length and the logistics of crossing a road with a bridge and bringing the finish line to the “town” means Andorra’s track has much more variety in terrain, soil and gradient than the VDS beast. Still a true “natural” challenge, Vallnord’s track has a flat, flowing top, some high speed tech and then eventually after some high speed hits, berms for the TV and rocky off-cambers it “breaks”! A very marked change in gradient that often sees the beginning of where the race is won or lost. Some riders seem to “reset” finding better flow, feel or less fatigue on the steeper bottom third of the track. Others crumble under the duress or just don’t handle the distinct change in rhythm too well. Bike set-up, accumulated fatigue, mind-set, pacing, tactics or strategy. Vallnord could be seen as just as much if not more of a “challenge” than Val Di sole… the reality being though, as I’ve waffled about before…it’s just different!
Everything changes but everything stays the same? Well 2018 see’s the VDS race hitting the Valley of the sun in early July – prime thunderstorm season, and as I sit here in Val di Sole finishing off this waffle it is raining heavy outside, it’s still a toasty 24c but it ain’t gonna be the dust on dust race we’ve had for out previous 4 visits. Trackwalk will tell the tale but there’s been talk of a few small changes to the bottom half of this classic track. With safety and spectacle in mind. Taping width and direction have been decisive here in the past with the 2017 race having one of the best mixes of speed, challenge and technicality in many many years, all made possible by simply taping in a wide track that allows the riders to use the hill to both generate and scrub speed as needed.
Andorra is a week away yet and I’m sure there are those in “the know”, rumours are a brand new bottom section of track being used, possibly negate the chat above about the big break in gradient. But for now sticking with the known knowns is all we can do! Fingers crossed for as much fresh track, fresh challenge and fresh dirt as possible. As natural as Vallnord is, it’s a well used hill, with many years of world cup racing and seasons of bike park useage under its belt the track is down to bedrock in places meaning “lines” don’t come with choice.
Anyways, from here on in it’s track-walk, practice, quali and finals. Same old, same old. Make sure to tune into Instagram to see the same adjectives used daily, wild, rough, gnarly, natural etc… Friday night you’ll see “time to turn it up” or “bring the heat”. We are halfway through the season almost, the top dogs are pretty set, the top 20 contenders even, but what’s not too clear is who’s gonna take control in the overall, the men’s race is so tight, the women’s too. Seagrave’s DSQ in Leogang sees here 174 pts back, the mens race doesn’t quite have that issue other than Gwin’s crash in Fort Bill.
Rad race tracks for rad riders. Here’s hoping for some wild weather and a good shake up in who from the top 20 men make it into the top 10 or even the podium.
Make sure you tune into Red Bull TV, more support, more views = more races.
Now we’re eating road! Back to back World Cups are what we all want, like other series at the pinnacle of performance in their disciplines and sports, the rolling weekly circus keeps the fans, media and spectators keen, with not enough down-time between events for the lingering taste of race day blood to dissipate!
Fort William needs no introduction, nor does Leogang. It’s wall to wall hardpack and balls to the wall speed. One track held in high esteem, “Fort William’s” Nevis Range monster snaking it’s way down Aonach Mòr, sixteen years after its debut as a world cup it’s still crunching wheels, hurting bodies and crushing dreams! Leogang’s “Speedster” track has gotten progressively faster, straighter and arguably easier in recent years! But as we’ve said before, easy doesn’t mean simple and racing it well seems to be something that eludes many riders, male and female, with time gaps between 40th and 1st always wider at the much “easier” Leogang compared to its Scottish counterpart.
As race week for round 2 in Fort Bill has just landed the excitement seems genuine, the riders, racers, fans, teams, staff and media are beyond keen to get racing….training no matter how real, how “specific” or meticulously planned becomes monotonous, stale like bread! So you’ll se a glut of social media ramblings about how excited everyone is to go racing. Even though the track is well, the same it’s length, physical challenge and speed seem to keep the riders attention captivated. No let up! The same seems to hold through for those who put in test time and British national race time too. Although the risk of coming in over-down and as a result being underwhelmed come race day is real. In the men’s field it has happened plenty in the past and will be the case again today. There’s a lot to be said for testing and training under the eye of the clock, but the dosing can tip over into the too much of a good thing category quite quickly especially with the much needed principle of variation being so tough to come by at the “Fort”! Those with that winning formula know the value of down-time, the off switch and variety of stimulus.
Leogang, as I waffled about in the 2017 edition of “Hurly-Burly”, is a venue that everyone loves. The track takes a bashing from those who skirt the top ranks, but the venue is simple, central, efficient and stacked with quality accommodation! So invariable riders and staff moods are high, food is good and with a few days down time between events most people hit Friday’s Day 1 practice with fully stocked motivation. 2017 saw some serious safety issues with riders having to judge entry speeds (at nearly 80 km/h) for the final jump but otherwise the track was the same old story, gone were the rock gardens, up went the speeds. Should this track be raced every year…..no is my answer! But it always seems to provide an spectacle in all categories come race day. So mouth shut and tools up!
Fort William’s bog, lets not call it a wood, but 2017’s bog is gone, gone forever. Now like the Leogang rock gardens of years past it’s man made rock sections. The replacement for the “bog” of 2017 is awkward as nature never intended, but from the rider feedback to date the section provides a good challenge and an interesting break in rhythm from the high speed, new in 2017, section just above there. Coming storming in, arms tingling as you anchor down heavily!
So with this new addition after last years bog protests the famous Fort Bill track is 100% hardpack and with a record dry spell hitting the highlands the loose over hardpack will become more and more treacherous as race week wears on. Meaning, potentially, that like so many of 2017’s sweltering races the word of the week will be patience. Pushing as hard as traction allows where it allows it and being supremely patient not to push to hard to often in sections that don’t warrant or reward it. For such a wild piece rocky hill, lightness of touch always seems to pay come race day.
Have got, need not!
“Skill” is the application of the right technique at the right moment in the appropriate dose to achieve a desired movement outcome. Well that’s my definition at least and neither fort Bill nor Leogang demand the full spectrum of MTBers technique toolbox. Again though that’s not to say that neither track provides a challenge, they just don’t provide the full spectrum of challenge like a circa 2007 Schladming did or arguably Mont Sainte Anne does to this day. What 2018’s rounds 2 and 3 do demand though is pristine mastery of high speed change of direction, pumping and crisp choice of lines over the granite boulders of Fort William.
Benchmarking changes or improvements in the ladies field off of the performances of their male counterparts allows us to dig into both inter and intra individual changes quite nicely. Always keeping the “context” of any result up front and centre. Fort Bill’s physicality sees bigger percentage gap between the ladies and men’s winners. So a winter of smartly heavy strength work for the ladies could see that gap drop just a little. Defining worthwhile meaningful change is a real challenge. Comparing two fast dry races like 2015 and 2017 in Leogang, we saw that the ladies winners, Atherton & Seagrave respectively were both exactly 30 seconds behind the male winner Gwin. Following a similar line of investigation, 2014 was an odd season for the male field and as mentioned above longer tracks = bigger sex gaps. Expression of Strength being the defining characteristic of performance?
The list of potential useful statistics coming into these two races is long. Therefore huge Potential for paralysis by analysis. Pretty stable track layouts when comparing too previous years means “key sectors” can be dissected. Past performances of individuals lined up with present performance potential in the light of current constraints is the essence of using analysis and stats to your advantage. Always remembering that while the clock doesn’t lie “performance” and outcome are not the same thing.
If you are after some straightforward stats though, we’ve visited Leogang 8 times before, Fort William 16. In the men’s field Aaron Gwin hold 50% of Leogang’s victories. 4/8. The Fort has been around much longer allowing Minnaar to rack up 7 victories over a VERY impressive time-span. A period spanning a serios changing wheel-sizes, bike design, reliability and competition structure.
The easy money is put on these two riders at those two venues. For me the potential of massive upset provides a lot of excitement. The ladies races are far less clear cut, other than Mosely and Ragot, Atherton is the most prolific winner at the Fort but by no means dominant, ending a stunning victory streak under her own volition in 2017 at the Fort she’ll look to redeem herself this year. Confident and healthy Seagrave and Nicole will make for a battle royale. Leogang is even less clear cut than the Fort for the ladies. Seagrave rolling in as reigning champ will mean little unless that momentum is kickstarted on Anoch Mòr!
Because the tracks change little, last years results will certainly sway the bookies odds, but other than the victors of 2017 & maybe podiums, the results sheet can leave you less than optimally informed. “Form” that lovely mix of fitness – fatigue + motivation is a transient quality. Comes, goes etc… Key things like physical preparation and team environment not to mention bicycle performance all play their roll. The mental puzzle solving that underpins all DH performance is the one we need to look at coming into round 2. I’m hazarding a guess at 2-3 newish faces on the Fort William podium but an experienced packed Leogang steps for the men and well for the ladies “recent form” points to a 3 way battle between Myriam, Tahnée & Rachel.
A side-note to it all is watching how practice and racing goes at the first of this double-header for those who have camped out at the Fort for a week before versus those who fly in Monday. A little jet-lag versus a little over-exposure!
The stand-alone season opener in Croatia means many companies and teams probably have some “new tech” to showcase or hide in Fort William, do we really truly care? Emm no, but rumours are a certain 27.5 stalwart team have a 29er ready but won’t ride it. Santa Cruz have a new bike, some guys kits will match their hubs and pedals, the main point is that if you’ve not tested it don’t race it. Throwing back to 2017 and there were a scandalous amount of racers bending 29” wheels in Fort William and struggling to hoard tyres for Leogang to come. The self-inflicted wheel size head-fuck of 2017 is all but behind us I think, so I for one am stoked to see results with asterisk added on come Sunday!
The excitement to go racing again is HUGE! I can’t wait, can’t wait to help athlete’s do their best all week long. Faced with classic tracks and venues, motivation and attention will be keys to performance. Practice builds race-runs, it’s not just their to convince yourself you know what you are doing or to burn brake pads. So managing motivation and expectation will be the name of the game.
Classic track, classic venues are in every great sport; F1, MotoGP, MX, Alpine skiing, Soccer, Sailing and Road cycling. We however don’t have the luxury of black tarmac or a fresh covering of snow. Unique in demands, DH needs some unique solutions to allow us all to keep the motivation peaking. Races like Leogang and Fort William on bi-annual rotation in the future….? Yes please!