From Fort William last week, the 4X ProTour riders travelled south to Italy for round 3 of the 2013 4X ProTour in Val Di Sole. The 'Valley of the Sun' rarely lets us down and this year was no different. Blue skies and sunshine all week with temperatures close to 30 degrees everyday provided perfect track conditions for round 3.
Unchanged from last year, this track simply doesn't need any changes. It always delivers fantastic racing. It is the longest track on the ProTour, but with huge berms and plenty of space on each straight, the riders can move around and set up passes well in advance.
As always big crowds flocked to the track to watch both qualifying on Friday night and racing on Saturday night. Under floodlights, the drama unfolded.
On Friday night it was qualifying. First up it was the women. The big question was, would any of them jump the pro line doubles? With some men opting to not jump them, it was going to take an amazing run for any women to gamble and hit the doubles. Celine Gros looked like she was going for it but opted out at the last second. She set the early time to beat. Next Lucia Oetjen again looked like she had the speed but opted for the left line. Finally it was Katy Curd, current series leader and unbeaten in 2013, who went for it. She hit the first double perfect, got some cranks in and popped the 2nd double. At 45 feet long it was impressive and the roars of the male riders at the top of the track echoed out in the valley!!! It was awesome to watch and deservedly Katy took the fastest time.
1st - Katy Curd - 50.955
2nd - Celine Gros - 51.170
3rd - Lucia Oetjen - 52.293
Next were the men. Due to his late entry, the recently married Jakub Hnidak set the early pace with a storming ride. This time held for most of the qualifying session. With 10 riders to go, the pace stepped up. Piotr Paradowski went fastest, then Hannes Slavik and Quentin Derbier. With 4 riders to go the fastest time was changing with each rider down the hill. Michael Mechura looked to be on a flyer until he slid out of the bridge that drops into the finish. He crashed hard and knocked himself unconscious. The medics ran over to him to attend. Scott Beaumont was half way down the course at this point when the call went out to stop qualifying. The marshals ran out onto the track with red flags to stop him just before the bridge. He hit the brakes but slid out at full speed trying to stop and crashed hard in the same place. Both riders were down and being attended to. Scott got up and was trying to walk off the crash. Michael was taken to the medical unit, but Scott was shuttled up to the start for a re run. About 10 minutes later, Boom Boom did his qualifying run again. An incredible run placed him 6th overall which was impressive as he couldn't walk properly on his right leg!!
Next up was Michal Prokop. He simply tore the track apart and set the new fastest time. With just Tomas Slavik to go, everyone wondered if he could take the fastest time. The answer came in 44 seconds. No he couldn't. Prokop took the fastest time, maximum qualifying points and the crucial gate pick for Saturday night's racing.
1st - Michal Prokop - 44.137
2nd - Tomas Slavik - 44. 268
3rd - Quentin Derbier - 44. 969
So it was time for racing. The crowds came out in force and lined the track 5 deep from top to bottom. The first gate dropped at 20.00 and racing was underway. What a night it turned out to be.
The women were first up. Semi final 1 and it was Katy Curd who got the snap and pulled away. The fight for 2nd was on. Helene Fruhwirth battled back from a bad gate to pass Tereza Votavova and claim a final position. In semi final 2, Celine Gros looked fast and took the win ahead of Lucia Oetjen. Tanka Hendrysiak battled hard but just missed out at the finish line.
Then came the women's finals. In the small final it was an amazing win for Elena Schwelka. In her first year racing in the 4X ProTour, it was great to see a fresh face in the women's category on the podium in 5th overall. The main event was next. Katy Curd has won the opening 2 rounds but could anyone stop her in Italy. She took gate 1, Celine Gros in 2, Lucia Oetjen in 3 and Helene Fruhwirth in 4. The gate dropped and Katy got the holeshot. Helene swooped high low in turn 1 to move into 3rd behind Celine Gros. Curd and Gros moved a little clear. Would Katy hit the pro line. The answer was no and Celine was right on her rear wheel. Through the rocks Celine made her move but in the last turn Katy protected the lead and held on to take the win. Celine finished 2nd ahead of Helene and Lucia. That is Katy's third win from 3 races in 2013.
Onto the men's. The racing all night was incredible. No one knew who was going to win any race. So many passes, so much action and one of the best ever displays of the level that world 4X riders are at now. There were more than 3 passes in every race. The riders were on fire and the crowds were going wild. Early casualties were Milan Mysik, Michal Marosi and Hannes Slavik. By the semi finals, we were down to the sharp end.
Semi final 1 and it was Michal Prokop, Felix Beckeman, Jakub Hnidak and Joseph Vejvoda. Beckeman got the jump and closed Prokop down in turn 1. Prokop was in 2nd but under pressure from Hnidak. In the huge turn after the pro line Hnidak made his move and dived inside to take 2nd. Prokop lost a lot of ground but got up to speed quick. Hnidak covered the inside but didn't carry speed into the rocks. Prokop railed the outside line and into the final turn took 2nd and grabbed a spot in the final. It was a brilliant race.
Semi final 2. Tomas Slavik, Quentin Derbier, Scott Beaumont and Stefano Dolfin. The crowd were going wild for Dolfin, the Italian rider who was having the race of his life. The gate dropped and it was Slavik, Derbier and Beaumont wheel to wheel in turn 1. The 3 of them pulled a slight lead on Dolfin and the action unfolded in the huge berm after the ProLine. Slavik covered the inside, Derbier carried speed mid track and Beaumont railed it. Coming down the long straight before the rocks they were all next to each other. Slavik held the inside into the rocks whilst Derbier drifted to cover Beaumont. Boom Boom somehow found space on a knife edge and squeezed passed Derbier down the rocks. The crowd were loving it and across the line it was Slavik and Beaumont who transferred to the main event.
In the men's small final, Derbier made an awesome gate and simply did not look back. He has been on the podium at every ProTour in 2013 and tonight 5th place was his again.
Down to the final race - the men's final. Prokop took 1, Slavik 2, Beckeman in 3 and Beaumont in 4. As the gate dropped Prokop made his best gate of the night and bar to bar with Slavik managed to lead into turn 1. Slavik and Beckeman battled as Beaumont cut to the inside. Heading out onto the ProLine, the positions held then it all went wild again after the doubles. Prokop led, Slavik went inside and Beckeman followed him. Beaumont railed the turn and in a repeat of the semi final the 3 riders were close heading into the rocks. Slavik launched down the rocks and passed Prokop to take the lead. Beaumont and Beckeman went level down the rocks but Beckeman held onto 3rd into the final turn. When it all looked like it was over into the final straight, Slavik crashed off the bridge. Prokop could not avoid him and both crashed out. Beckeman and Beaumont flew by them and in the blink of an eye the race results were turned on their head. Beckeman took the win from Beaumont in 2nd and Prokop was up first from the crash to claim 3rd.
In the finish area, celebrations were more reserved than normal as Beckeman and Beaumont were more concerned with how Slavik and Prokop were. A few bumps and bruises for both riders was the outcome so it was onto the podium celebrations. Beckeman taking his first ever 4X ProTour victory in front of absolutely wild crowds.
This race was 4X at its absolute best. In fact the 2013 season so far has been brilliant. The organisers at Val Di Sole were blown away by the crowds and the atmosphere and without doubt the 4X ProTour will be back again at this fantastic facility. 4X has come of age and the ProTour is proving week in and week out just how great this sport has become.
Round 4 of the 4X ProTour will take place on August 3rd at Tomas Slavik's new track - JBC Bikepark. This track is set to take 4X to new levels with high speed, huge jumps and a section where the riders will race through woods over roots and off cambers. It is going to be wild.