The 2018 UCI Downhill World Cup is nearly upon us and with a new addition, a blast from the past and plenty of old favourites, this year's venus are going to play host to some of the tightest action we've ever seen. What does each venue have in store for the world's fastest racers? Read our guide to help you make your bets on who will come out on top at each round in a quest to win Pinkbike's Fantasy Downhill presented by Trek.
Round 1 Lošinj, Croatia - April 21 - 22
A totally new World Cup venue for 2018, Lošinj is a northern Island off the Croatian mainland in the Adriatic sea, to the east of Italy. The track is rocky and extremely technical, although it's quite short it has been built without the use of any machinery, adding to its unique feel. The track received some initial criticism from Loic Bruni, but after doing some testing at the track he backtracked and admitted that it should create some of the most interesting racing this year. Bruni also commented that to get the best results riders are going to need to try out lots of different set-up techniques. As a season opener, downhill riders the world over are hoping the track will allow for an explosive start. Listen to Bruni, Iles and Miller weigh in on their experiences at Lošinj and check out all the work the build crew have been up to preparing for their inaugural World Cup event.
Round 2 Fort William, Scotland - June 2 - 3
2017's visit to the midge-infested but absolutely stunning Nevis Range just outside Fort William in Scotland was full of surprises, letdowns and assertions of dominance. In 2017 track-side chat was dominated by the inclusion of a fresh-cut wooded section that went from loamy paradise to a root-infested, rutty roll of the dice in a matter of minutes as soon as rider's wheels touched the dirt. The section took many victims, the most notable of which was Rachel Atherton. She dislocated her shoulder (and then had a spectator put it back in track-side), signalling an end to her nine-race winning streak. In the finals, the woods felled more riders to the floor, shaking up the results somewhat. The question remains, will it be included in this year's track and if so, will it help decide the odd of the racer's chances at a podium result?
Elite Men 1 Greg Minnaar 4:40.344 2 Jack Moir 4:43.323 3 Aaron Gwin 4:44.143
Junior Men 1 Matt Walker (GB) 4:50.155 2 Finn Iles 4:55.162 3 Sylvain Cougoureux 4:59.007
Junior Women 1 Megan James 6:50.827 2 Melanie Chappaz 6:59.767 3 Flora Lesoin 7:09.095
Round 3 Leogang, Austria - June 9 - 10
To the west of Innsbruck, the central location of Leogang in Austria means it's well endowed with amazing scenery and massive mountains. Although the larger-than-life landscape doesn't translate to a rugged and natural-feeling track, Leogang's race course has been widely criticised by riders who love technical challenges. However, that isn't to say that it doesn't present its own unique set of challenges. The racing is frequently tight and extremely high-paced and riders have to risk it all for a shot at the podium. Last year, in a protest to the trail's lack of features, Phil Atwill rode his hardtail during training. Leogang marked Tahnée Seagrave's first World Cup win and saw Aaron Gwin come out on top. Racers haver to be asking the question: "Has the trail crew at Leogang listened to rider's complaints about the bikepark nature of the track?" Or will the riders embrace the variety of the challenge the Austrian track offers?
Junior Women 1 Paula Zibasa 4:09.777 2 Melanie Chappaz 4:10.772 3 Alessia Missiaggia 4:14.119
Round 4 Val di Sole, Italy - July 7 - 8
Named the 'Valley of Sun', Val di Sole is nestled away in Italy's stunning northern Alpine region and, as the name suggests, it's normally bestowed with favourable weather conditions during the Summer months. Since it first popped up on the UCI downhill race calendar in 2008 when it hosted the World Championships, Val di Sole has gone down in the history books as one of the gnarliest race tracks around. Soft, dry dirt covers roots, rocks and holes that are ready to take out unsuspecting riders and many race runs have ended in a blaze of fire and bike parts. In 2017, Greg Minnaar's bike snapped in half when it collided with a solid wooden post marking the edge of the course during practice. This made the internet stir wildly and Minnaar's bad luck didn't improve; his finals run was cut short when he punctured and blew up his back wheel. Greg handed the win to Gwin, but who will triumph this year? In the ladies race, Tahnée Seagrave backed up her 'bike park' win in Leogang with an impressive performance on this ultra-gnarly track, silencing her critics.
Junior Women 1 Melanie Chappaz 4:49.223 2 Paula Zibasa 4:52.099 3 Beatrice Migliorini 5:05.027
Round 5 Vallnord, Andorra - July 14 - 15
The Vallnord track, in the Principality of Andorra that sits between France and Spain in the Pyrenees, is a firm rider favourite and isn't short of features. Famed by its gradient, riders take a rollercoaster ride down the mountain plummetting some 600 metres in 4 minutes and are spat out at the bottom of the hill feeling like they've been in a fight with Muhammad Ali. Troy Brosnan took his second ever World Cup win on the Andorran track up against stiff competition from Greg Minnaar who was on a roll and Danny Hart who was letting it all hang out right up to the line. Clever line choice and calculated risk-taking seem to add up to successful run times on this demanding and technical track.
Elite Men 1 Troy Brosnan 4:06.236 2 Greg Minnaar 4:06.456 3 Danny Hart 4:08.642
Junior Men 1 Finn Iles 4:12.847 2 Matt Walker 4:17.820 3 Kade Edwards 4:21.646
Junior Women 1 Megan James 5:43.852 2 Melanie Chappaz 5:59.826 3 Beatrice Migliorini 6:14.520
Round 6 Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada - August 11 - 12
Just a stone's throw from Canada's Québec City, Mont-Sainte-Anne has been on the World Cup calendar since 1993. The track is a mix of flat-out old-school ski piste sections intertwined with some of the rockiest and harshest technical sections on the calendar in the woods. Notoriously, the weather has played a role in how Canada's World Cup event unfolds and 2017 was no exception. Finn Iles, who posted a time quick enough to bag him the elite win, rode a track with slightly different conditions to the top men. Luckily the weather was fairly consistent across both the men's and women's elite races and Gwin pipped podium new-comer Dean Lucas to the win by a one-second margin. In the women's race, Tahnée bagged another elite win with a recovering Rachel Atherton not too far behind in fifth place. It's a safe bet that Mont-Sainte-Anne will host a fantastic show for the racers and fans alike in 2018.
Elite Men 1 Aaron Gwin 4:18.426 2 Dean Lucas 4:19.484 3 Danny Hart 4:19.846
Junior Men 1 Finn Iles 4:18.140 2 Sylvain Cougoureux 4:19.774 3 Joe Breeden 4:22.599
The last time the downhill World Cup circus visited the mid-eastern French town of La Bresse was for round 6 of the 2011 race series. Although the area's not famed for its mountainous terrain, the La Bresse track was a favourite with riders harking back to tracks of the late 90's. With flat-out grassy turns separated by rockier and gnarly sections, riders loved the speed on offer. The 2018 track has not yet been revealed, but with the available terrain, we can hope that it'll share similarities with the 2011 track.
Junior Women 1 Manon Carpenter 2:51.836 2 Agnes Delest 3:02.791 3 Sarah Atkin 3:08.580
World Championships Lenzerheide, Switzerland - September 8 - 9
Like Leogang, Lenzerheide has taken some criticism for its bike-park feeling track but for what it lacks in technical challenges, it makes up for with a need for the utmost of precision - even the smallest of errors can put riders well off the racing line, stripping them of seconds and places at the finish line. Previous visits to the seemingly always-dusty Swiss track have been won by Danny Hart and Greg Minnaar exclusively, while in the women's race it's Rachel Atherton and Myriam Nicole who share the spoils. Remaining virtually unchanged since it was first used as a World Cup track in 2015, we're sure that riders will welcome any changes for the 2018 World Champs.
Elite Men 1 Greg Minnaar 2:57.042 2 Troy Brosnan 2:57.204 3 Danny Hart 2:58.868
Junior Men 1 Finn Iles 3:09.743 2 Joe Breeden 3:10.877 3 Sylvain Cougoureux 3:13.806