For the penultimate race of the season the iXS European Downhill Cup stopped in Châtel, France. About 200 riders from 24 countries took to the start and could enjoy a perfect race with great weather and a relaxed atmosphere.
Some of the advantages of the later races in the year are that they are not too overly full, and also the excitement that builds up towards the end about who might win the overall series. Around 200 riders made their way to Châtel, in the Portes du Soleil region, to race in the sixth of the seven events that comprise the European Cup. Amongst the riders were the favorites in the overall rankings, points leader Johann Potgieter (RSA - Canfield Factory Racing), as well as the second and the third placed riders, Robin Wallner (SWE - Team Åre Bikepark) and Damien Spagnolo (FRA - MS Mondraker). There were a few other big names that were considered as favorites here as well. Brendan Fairclough (GBR - Scott 11) was back at the race stage, always a sure shot for the win, and Mickael Pascal (FRA - CK Racing) has already proved that he is a candidate for the podium, placing third in the first race of the season. Florent Payet (FRA - SC-Intense) proved that he is in top form by finishing 7th in last week’s world champs. All in all we expected an exciting race.
The race started Friday as Brendan Fairclough did the GoPro Course Check and commented on the 1.5km long course, dropping about 300m. Saturday’s seeding run offered a first hint on who will be among the favorites for the win. Miriam Ruchti (SUI - SC-Intense) finished the day as fastest in the Elite Women, with Spagnolo as the fastest man.
The weather stayed brilliant for the finals, with no reminders on last year’s race, when light snow was falling on the Sunday. The masters were the first to take on the course. The places on the podium were no different than in the seeding run, with Wilfred van de Haterd (NED - YT Industries) winning the race and advancing his overall lead in the series. With a solid run he sent Henrik Karppinen (FIN - Pappa Betalar) to second place, while Marcel Waldmann (SUI - iXS Gravity Union) finished third.
The U17 promised a bit more excitement. Two British riders put the leader of the series, Marcus Hansson (SWE - Hanssonbil.se), under pressure, as Sam Herd (GBR - Perth City Cycles) and Taylor Vernon (GBR - FOX Scott Bike IT) were quite a bit faster. The times on Sunday were even faster, as Hansson shove off another 5 seconds of his time. But Miha Ivancic (SLO - ŠKTD Avče) stayed in the lead with the fastest time till then, and Herd left nothing undone and came down the course in the fastest time again. But with coming third Hansson could defend his lead in the overall series and is already set as the overall winner. Ferdinand Brunold (GER - Mag41.com Racing Team), second in the overall series, won’t try to look back on the weekend. First he didn’t finish on Saturday, losing valuable points, but Sunday turned out to be even worse for him. He showed up too late at the start, and added a DNS (did not start) to the DNF (did not finish) from Saturday.
The race in the elite women was as mixed. After Floriane Pugin (FRA - Scott 11) crashed in the seeding run on Saturday and took some speed of her run on Sunday, something similar happened to Miriam Ruchti on Sunday, and the Swiss rider decided not to start in the final. In the end Pugin won in 2:48.075, ahead of junior Tahnée Seagrave (GBR - FMD Racing) and Zarja Cernilogar (SLO - Crn trn GT). It couldn’t have been a more ideal outcome to make the final in Todtnau as exciting and thrilling as it can be. Pugin (132 Punkte) is currently in the lead, followed by Ruchti (128 ), Cernilogar (126) and Emmeline Ragot (122/FRA - MS Mondraker).
In the elite men it was harder to trim down the favourites for the win to a few names, as the slightest mistake on the 2.5 minute course is unforgiving, meaning the end for winning the race. The Bike Park crew did their best in the morning to present a perfectly shaped course for the race. The course was challenging, with loads of pedaling needed in the first and last section, steep sections in the middle, technical with roots and rocky passages. The first serious contender for the win was Joshua Button (AUS - SC-Intense) who did a time that was 3 seconds faster than the fastest time on Saturday. He followed the race in the Red Bull Hot Seat as one after another rider didn’t manage to even equal his interim time. The overall leader Johann Potgieter managed to come close to his time by 2 seconds, but had to settle on second place in the finish. He was followed by Florent Payet, who placed himself between the two. No one of the following riders was able to beat the time set by Button. It was Brendan Fairclough who came close to it by 0.2 in the interim time. The clock stopped at 2:28.599 when he crossed the finish line, 0.05 faster than Button. It was only Spagnolo left on the course, and he was only a couple of tenths of a second behind at the interim time. But as he left the forest with 50m still to go the time had run out, and he finished 12th, 5 seconds behind with a dirty sleeve. The final result was: Fairclough first, Button second, followed by Payet, Wallner and Potgieter. In the overall series, after taking the worst result off, Wallner leads with 488 points ahead of Potgieter (459) and Spagnolo (409). Markus Pekoll (350/AUT - MS Mondraker) still has a very outside chance finishing on the overall podium, but only if one of the three best riders should finish with a bad result in the last race.
The last race will take the iXS European Downhill Cup in two weeks’ time to Todtnau in Germany.