Bratislava. The capital of Slovakia, a 5 million country right at the very heart of Europe, that was put on the map of urban downhill almost precisely 12 years ago. This weekend, however, it’s a big comeback for the quickly growing city built around the Danube river.
Filip Polc, the urban downhill legend and most importantly Bratislava local is in the process of fulfilling his life-long dream of bringing his most beloved sport back to his homeland. What’s more it serves as a kick-off event for a whole world-wide series of city downhill races in 2014. Bratislava City Downhill will see some of the world’s top riders compete on its streets – the likes of Brendan Fairclough, Tracey Hannah, Marcelo Gutierrez, and Matti Lehikoinen joined by fourcross superstars Tomas Slavik, Michal Marosi and Michal Prokop will compete on the short but technical and quite sketchy track come Saturday. This is the preview of the course.
Starting right on the castle courtyard, the course runs down many sets of stairs and finishes on a square in the bottom right corner of the photo.
| It's all fun, games, and some actual duties for the first guys to arrive to Slovakia. Marcelo Gutierrez, Matti Lehikoinen, Filip Polc and Tomas Slavik held the conference in one of the most iconic restaurants.|
| Matti Lehikoinen checks out the view from the iconic restaurant perched above one of the bridges above the Danube river. The whole course can be seen quite clearly from here.|
The downhill World Cup in Val di Sole took place just a week and a couple hundred miles away. The lucky ones that got to Slovakia by car didn’t have to go through the process of rebuilding the checked-in bikes.
Anyone want to take a wild and educated guess, what this little smiley sticker on Marcelo Gutierrez’s top tube says?
Hutchinson UR rider Fabien Cousinié outlined by the castle gate checks out the 15-foot start ramp right in the courtyard. Come next day, riders are going to be thrashing it all morning during the trainings and twice in the afternoon during the semi and final runs."It’s pretty unique starting in the middle of the castle. I think it‘s gonna be pretty tight too, really close times. Just don’t know yet if I’m gonna ride an enduro or downhill bike, so it’s gonna be a big question for tomorrow."
- Fabien Cousinié
The speed from the steep ramp is will be enough to bottom out the suspension on the transition, but to clear the first big gap right in the big doorway, a good few pedalstrokes on the straight are vital.
| The first jump will offer one of the best views of the city and some cultural artifacts to admire. Unless you would be more interested in getting to the finish as fast as possible.|
| Big off-camber turn on the slick cobblestones points the riders towards the first sets of stairs.|
Small sender into uneven and tricky stairs is the first sign of things to come further down the course. Fabien Cousinié with the team cameraman and Peter Polc, Filip Polc’s dad and his right hand during the course building stroll past.
Tracey Hannah is the only lady invited to ride the intimidating track. She wasn’t all smiles during the track walk as she weighed the risks of the course suffering a serious injury in 2012 and a broken collarbone earlier this year.
Right after first sets of stairs and a tight one eighty, the master drop awaits. The view from the top is as magnificent as the jump itself. There won’t be much time to appreciate it during the race runs, though. Even a glimpse might cost you a trip to the hospital.
It’s not the size of the main drop, but the angle of the landing, that had majority of the riders using all kinds of swearwords on the first sight of the beast. "Oh my f—king sh-t the bed“
from Matti was the most creative one. "I don’t think I have a lot going on in my head anyways, but this is gonna be a highway to hell. That’s why I brought a heavy metal helmet and Datel (Slavik) a heavy metal shirt."
- Michal Marosi
| Fourcross legend Michal Prokop checks out the transition to flat on his enduro 29er. Count in the speed from the actual huck and the G-forces are going to be massive.|
| The course builder is the one to send all the jumps for the first time and adjust the spacing before they are anchored into the cobblestones for good. Filip Polc sends the drop in the last few hours of sunlight.|
The building of the obstacles was still well underway during the course walk as the the castle had to stay unobstructed for tourists for as long as possible. A giant wallride will send the riders onto the medieval stones and then back on wood.
Marcelo Guttierez: "It’s sketchy. Worse than I expected. You have to hop to the wall, and then hop off the wall and the lip is quite steep. It’s hard to say if it’s scarier or not [than the tracks in South America] but it definitely is scary.“
Matti Lehikoinen: When was the last time I did a wallride? About ten years ago?
Tomas Slavik: What side do you do wallrides on?
Matti: I don’t even know.
| The entry gate to the castle grounds will be the exit gate for the riders. It is also the location of the speed trap. Speeds well into the thirties are expected.|
| All the obstacles were built by hand by young volunteers in the scorching sun that has been baking Europe for the past week.|
40-footer is now moved out of the walkers‘ way, expecting to be positioned and tested by the course designer himself.
| Sketchy, narrow, unevenen and unpredictable stairs will punish the wheels for any loss of concentration of their owners. No spectators will be allowed in here as there is simply no room to spare. Matti Lehikoinen was one of two riders that were quick to grab their bikes and helmets and smash the sets before the sun went down.|
Tomas Slavik on his 100/100 fourcross bike he brought for the race: "There is nowhere to sprint on the course, so I think I should have brought my downhill rig. And I did, but luckily I also forgot some parts at home so it’s going balls out for me. But I do have my hardtail as a backup. I was deeply convinced that this was gonna be alright, but it won’t.“
| Street art meets history. The theme of medieval structures littered with graffiti runs down the whole course. The flat take-off on top of three big sets of stairs had riders thinking which one of them is the landing. The trouble is, with no berm to push against at the end, even scrubbing the jump will make it very hard to turn on the bottom.|
| Bicycle wheels are no stranger to this pedally straight under the landmark bridge of the Slovak National Uprising.|
Everyone was hoping the young builders did a good job of anchoring this tiny berm into the ground. With the finish just around the corner, riders will be trying to push out of it with all they have left.
| Only four feet high, but count in finish straight speed and count out any landing, and the rear suspension will have some rather unpleasant times dealing with this jump to finish.|
The tips of towers on the left mark the start of the course. Less then half a mile in length and 260 feet in vertical drop, this is where the riders will brake and hope to take over the hot seat.
One of Slovakia’s favourites, Matej Vitko reckons: "Everybody was whining how gnarly it is, but I don’t think it’s that bad.“
Enough said. Bring on tomorrow.