This season just keeps getting better and better. Here are five things we noticed from the sidelines as we passed the halfway point in the downhill season:The top section of the track was crucial for the win
It's easy to look at Vallnord and assume the race will be won in the technical, steep chutes that make up the bottom half of the track but the opposite seemed to be true in racing on Saturday. Both the men and women's elite races were won in the top 90 seconds of the track as Rachel and Loic put 3 seconds into the rest of the field in the bike park. It was a lead they would both able to manage to the wins at the bottom (although Rachel did win the bottom split in her run too).
Were other riders keeping energy in reserve for the bottom or did they just not realise the amount of time to be gained on the flatter top section? Whatever the answer, the current World Champions took full advantage and added another notch to their win tallies.Thibault Daprela will be one to watch when he graduates to elites next year.
Thibault Daprela may not have won the junior round in Vallnord but he certainly showed he has the pace to be a real contender from the get-go when he graduates to elites next year. Daprela won junior qualifying by 13 seconds, with a time fast enough for seventh in elites, then in finals was leading by nine seconds at split 2, which was only beaten by Bruni and Vergier by the end of the day. A high-speed crash robbed us of the chance to see how fast he could really go but there's no doubt we'll see plenty more dominant performances from him before the year is through.
Loic Bruni's overall challenge is starting to look very strong
There has never been any doubt around Loic Bruni's pace but it has been four years since he put together a full season of results that let him challenge for the overall. In 2015, he finished second after picking up four podiums but he still finished more than 250 points behind a dominant Aaron Gwin. This is the first time Bruni has ever won more than one World Cup in a single season and now has a lead of 65 points with three wins in his pocket and momentum on his side going into a home race in Les Gets next weekend. The race is for the overall is far from over though as Troy Brosnan and Amaury Pierron are within 150 points and ready to jump on any mistake.
The rise of the privateers continues
The privateers have been showing up a lot of Factory riders this year and that has only continued at Vallnord. Nina Hoffmann qualified fastest and went on to deliver one of the most memorable race runs in history, Johannes Von Klebelsberg backed up his performance in Leogang with his first-ever top ten and David Tummer, while not technically a privateer, was still pitting out of a van and ended up just off the podium. In the junior ranks, Matteo Iniguez, racing in a French National jersey, took his first-ever World Cup win too. The privateers are fired up and ready to take some more scalps through the rest of the year.
Andorra still provides one of the toughest challenges in downhill.
We've been coming to Andorra for more than a decade but it still challenges riders with relentless steeps and burly tech. This year, the deep dust lying on the track and hanging in the air made this race similar to a wet race with precision and control more crucial than ever. The track is set to change next year with a new bottom section leading to a different part of La Massana for a new finish arena. Hopefully, it doesn't detract from the amazing character of this one of a kind track.