The second round of the 2013 UCI DH World Cup took place at the weekend in Val di Sole, Italy; a statement that will only come as news if you’ve been living under a rock whilst one of the most exciting races in recent history took place. There was a dream ending to the weekend too, with victories in both men’s and women’s categories that would see fans of the sport from across the world delighted.
The weekend prior to Val di Sole saw almost unbelievable events pan out for fans watching racing in Fort William, Scotland, with siblings Gee and Rachel Atherton taking wins in their respective categories. There was much speculation amongst the entire mountain bike community following the race as to why American dream kid Aaron Gwin, who completely dominated the prior two World Cup seasons with eight out of a possible 14 wins, failed to do his new sponsor Specialized proud, finishing in 17th place on the day.
Val di Sole would stand as Gwin’s chance to prove his abilities and that his winter training had paid off, but with frame size swaps at the last minute perhaps the team’s preparation wasn’t quite what it could have been. One thing has to be said and that is that a change of bike, team, mechanic and kit is not something that is going to be a quick transition.
Val di Sole’s downhill course is possibly the most liked amongst racers on the World Cup circuit: Year on year it promises a true test of mountain bike skill with a never-ending succession of rocks, roots and turns. Many also cite it as the toughest track on the calendar as its steep gradient and unforgiving (on riders’ arms) holes make it both intimidating and highly physical. The fact that it is in Italy and there are always thousands of screaming fans lining the course does also help its popularity…
The track at Val di Sole has become the Achilles heel of more than one top male racer, most notably for Sam Hill, whose fondness of its ferocity has not even proved enough to let him take a much-deserved win here. Hill’s 2008 World Championship run will forever be recounted as one of the most inspired rides of all time, marred by a crash on the penultimate corner and unfortunately for the Australian a performance that he has not yet been able to repeat. 2013 would prove no exception. Danny Hart’s style also suits this one down to the ground as does Brook Macdonald’s – hammer hard, put it all on the line and get wild on your bike, that’s all it takes, right?Steve Smith of Canada knows how to tackle a technical course. His skills would carry him to another top result at Val di Sole.
For some the brutal and relentless run would bite hard in 2013, with the likes of junior racer and GT Factory Racing’s young hopeful Taylor Vernon taking huge slams. Fortunately there was no injury akin to Cedric Gracia’s life threatening hip demolition of 2012.
Qualifying came early in the week at Val di Sole 2013 as the event was also host to the cross country and cross country eliminator events, so riders were seeded on Friday (as opposed to the Saturday qualis of a DH-only World Cup).
In the women’s category it was business as usual for Rachel Atherton, who showed her cards once again and perhaps wished for tighter competition (as she Tweeted after her massive 10 second win at Fort William). Six seconds clear of Emmeline Ragot and another 50 points to add to her bid for the overall title. Manon Carpenter was a further four seconds back from Ragot in third and by this point the trio already looking set for an on-going battle.
Women’s qualifying results
1 Rachel Atherton (GBR)
2 Emmeline Ragot (FRA)
3 Manon Carpenter (GBR)
4 Morgane Charre (FRA)
5 Floriane Pugin (FRA)
Men’s junior qualifying times were looking exciting with Britain’s Phil Atwill showing his immense talent and keen eye for a line, taking the win and leading the Madison/Saracen rider into an exciting position for finals. Fort William’s winner Noel Niederberger had to settle for second place in qualis but with this being such a keen bunch you never know what is going to happen come race day.
In the elite men’s category Gee Atherton carried his momentum from Fort William, taking the early lead and edging out a back-to-form Aaron Gwin by 1.3 seconds. Having said that, Val di Sole is the track where Gwin tore the competition apart in 2012, winning the race by over seven seconds… Steve Smith and Brook Macdonald continued to show form and promise, finishing third and fourth respectively and ‘Thunder from Down Under’ Sam Hill rounded out the top five. That’s five different nations producing riders capable of riding to within four seconds of each other over the course of one very distinct downhill track. Interesting stuff.
Elite men’s qualifying results
1 Gee Atherton (GBR)
2 Aaron Gwin (USA)
3 Steve Smith (CAN)
4 Brook Macdonald (NZL)
5 Sam Hill (AUS)
Contrary to the weather forecasts in the week before Val di Sole, race day turned out to be an absolute corker with glorious sunshine beating down on the steep Italian hillside and its crowd of rowdy onlookers all day. The course built in roughness and also dust as the day went on and those who qualified well were to see the track in a degraded form. Val di Sole isn’t about things being easy though.
Here’s the FULL REPLAY of the event:
Juniors were first on track and this was when the UK’s Taylor Vernon had his aforementioned, nasty crash. He was reportedly ok following the incident you’ll be happy to hear, and look out for him on a podium near you soon. Here it was time for an Aussie to step into proceedings, with Dean Lucas leaping from a ninth-place qualifier right up to the top step of the podium.Australian Dean Lucas took the junior win in Val di Sole after a ninth in qualifying.
Lucas is part of a travelling crew of Australian juniors and team coach for the trip Nathan Rennie (remember him…?) will surely have been one happy mentor. Britain’s Phil Atwill finished an agonising .160 back from Lucas, but he’ll at least be happy with a well-earned podium. The same goes for third rider on the day USA’s Luca Shaw who was .02 behind Atwill. It’s tight at the top.
1 Dean Lucas (AUS)
2 Phil Atwill (GBR)
3 Luca Shaw (USA)
4 Loris Vergier (FRA)
5 Gianluca Vernassa (ITA)
The women’s category was once dominated by a lady named Chausson, now we have her modern-day equivalent by way of Rachel Atherton. With an upbringing alongside two of the fastest and hardest working riders in the sport of mountain biking it is hardly surprising that Atherton has become one of the best the sport has ever seen. She was again untouchable here, with a massive five second winning margin from French pinner Emmeline Ragot.Rachel Atherton was once again untouchable at Val di Sole – she’s on form alright and looks set for a clean season.
Floriane Pugin, who has proved her talent and cool character in recent seasons, came back to form after a slightly disappointing start to the year, rounding off the top three, albeit almost seven seconds further back from Ragot…
1 Rachel Atherton (GBR)
2 Emmeline Ragot (FRA)
3 Floriane Pugin (FRA)
4 Morgane Charre (FRA)
5 Myriam Nicole (FRA)
The moment that everyone had been waiting for. The showdown of all showdowns. Gwin vs. the world? Maybe not quite, certainly not in the quiet American’s mind, but it is true that there was great speculation about how the Specialized rider’s day was to work out. Gwin looked somewhat hesitant on track, making several small mistakes that simply can’t be afforded at the top level of downhill racing these days and most definitely won’t pass as being ‘ok’ by the man himself. He looked peeved on the finish line but the rest of the field won’t be rushing to write him off, that’s for sure.Santa Cruz Syndicate rider Greg Minnaar looked like he was having a lot of fun come finals time and it showed in his top three result.
Who’d have thought that two weeks in a row a brother and sister could both triumph at the very highest level of their sport? That’s what happened at Val di Sole and following his sister’s lead, Gee Atherton put down what can only be described as a blistering run on a track that is unkind to faults – something Gee didn’t seem too worried about. Macdonald, Hill and Danny Hart were all unfortunate victims however, crashing out and finishing down the table. They all live to see another race though.Ruthless, relentless, punishing. Three words to describe the Val di Sole track but also Gee Atherton’s perfect run. He dished it out to competitors and every rider’s biggest rival here – the hill – and won by over a second.
Steve Smith did his sponsors and fellow Canadians Devinci Global Racing proud with a run of consistency spanning from 2012’s World Cup finale, finishing second on the day in Val di Sole. Greg Minnaar, a rider with one of the most prolific careers of all, picked up the pace from round one and slipped into third here, jumping, skipping and dancing his way down the course in his typical smooth and stylish manner. Young guns Bruni and Brosnan both earned well-deserved podiums here, rounding off the top five in that order and showing a glint of their futures.
1 Gee Atherton (GBR)
2 Steve Smith (CAN)
3 Greg Minnaar (RSA)
4 Loic Bruni (FRA)
5 Troy Brosnan (AUS)
Top three points rankings after round 2
1 Gee Atherton 490
2 Steve Smith 352
3 Brook Macdonald 262
1 Rachel Atherton 500
2 Emmeline Ragot 380
3 Manon Carpenter 300
1 Dean Lucas 90
2 Noel Niederberger 60
3 Phil Atwill 60