Qualifying is usually a rather non-descript affair, with the front runners sorting themselves out before finals. Val di Sole, however, was not that typical kind of day. Overnight rains would roll in once again to turn what had been a fairly dry track to a slick and sloppy mess for the early practice groups. Although it began to dry, the Black Snake track still managed to bite back, claiming some serious casualties. Most notably, women's World Cup leader Myriam Nicole and men's runner up Aaron Gwin. Both are almost certainly out for the finals, but stranger things have happened in the Valley of Sun.
If practice wasn't wild enough, mother nature decided to pour down the rain not once, but twice before qualifying. First, a heavy deluge just before the Elite Women took to the track, eventually tapering to a light drizzle. The fastest women in the overall have the luxury of being protected for the finals, and were anything but willing to pin it down in sketchy conditions. Tahnee and Tracey took it steady and safe, perhaps taking note of various lines in case they face similar conditions in tomorrow's final. One rider, however, who was not hanging about was European champ Monika Hrastnik, who put nearly 10 seconds into the entire field. Whether others were playing it safe or not, that is a massive gap and she certainly proves she has the speed to win here tomorrow.
As the last of the women crossed the line, the skies opened up once again with another perfectly timed downpour, just as Amaury Pierron was headed to the start gate. The top men would come down in slick and atrocious conditions with many protect riders playing it safe to avoid crashes and injuries. Everyone but Pierron, of course, who kept it pinned on the worst conditions to take top honors yet again. And as we saw in the women's race, the rain let up for everyone outside the top 20 - and the times began to tumble. Riders starting later had some of their best showings of the season. Most notably, Hugo Frixtalon, who would pilot his number 128 plate down the track to third place, and 64 plate of Joshua Barth slotted into 6th. The flip side of the late starters posting up faster and faster times would be the many early starters with less than perfect runs be pushed out of the finals. Eddie Masters, Alex Marin, Mick Hannah, Greg Williamson and Dean Lucas will be watching from the sidelines tomorrow.
If Val di Sole has been anything this year it is unpredictable Although the weather for tomorrow's race is calling for the more traditional sunshine this region is known for, no one is holding their breath. The hardest track on the circuit, combined with the most challenging weather we have seen this season, is bound to create one heck of a show. That, you can definitely bet your money on.