We live in a day and age where as time marches on, we are accustomed to progress and change and more often than not, for the better. Bikes are lighter, geometry is more dialed in, the brakes are stronger and the suspension is almost flawless. If you were to take Fabien Barel's Kona which won the last race here in 2004 and compared it to a modern DH bike, or even a modern Enduro bike for that matter, you would likely find it far inferior in almost every way. Yet somehow with all of these advances, it seems that the modern DH track has either stayed the same or even worse - changed, and not for the better. As bike parks have emerged, and the influence of BMX and motocross have pulled our sport in new directions, the tracks we race modern bikes on don't always seem to rise to the occasion. It's no secret that the riders are often frustrated by this, yet little to nothing has really improved over the past few years, other than the odd new venue popping up now and again, and even that seems to be few and far between.
When word got out that Crankworx would be coming to Les Gets, there were probably a lot of riders who wondered where in the world this place could be, and of all the options out there, why here? There were also many who were immediately excited, as Les Gets had long been synonymous with gnarly DH back in the late 1990's and early 2000's. It was a place with history. The slopes of Mont Chéry had played host to some epic tracks and some legendary races, most notably World Champs in 2004 which saw Fabien Barel take the win after Steve Peat crashed just meters from the finish line while on the fastest time. And not a soul has raced down these slopes since Peaty's fateful run 12 long years ago.
So, for Crankworx in 2016, the organizers have decided it's due time to unearth a classic, and breathe life back into a track that made so many headlines so many years ago. A decision that everyone here is thankful for. Sure, they could have built a "new track" complete with big berms and jumps, or maybe even a man-made rock garden or three, but they didn't. They went old school and back to the proven concept of keeping it fresh, natural and raw. Ironically, by making something old, they actually created something new. It's been years since we've seen a track at the World Cup level of this nature. Taped three meters wide top to bottom, freshly cut with no established line, using natural terrain to control speed and follow the fall line of the mountain. There are no ruts, there are no established trails, and there is no easy way down.
This is the type of track and conditions that have made the most memorable and iconic runs in our sport. The type of track that made legends out of riders like Nico Vouilloz, Steve Peat, and Sam Hill. And hopefully, the type of track that will help facilitate some much-needed change on the status quo that is currently present at the highest level in our sport.
The riders in attendance are ecstatic, many claiming this to be one of the best tracks to come along in years, and we can't wait to see what goes down here in the mud of Les Gets.
Neil Stewart drops on high on Mont Chery.
After a two-story start ramp, riders blast down some super fast mellow corners before hitting a massive road gap. The entire open slope section is raw, fresh cut, and saturated with water. It might look easy now, but once a few hundred riders blast through it, it's going to be wild.
It's fast, and it's fresh right out of the gate.
With the size of the road gap seen here, riders should have plenty of time in the air to enjoy the view.
Go big, or else....
It's refreshing to see a track laid out with the flow and fall line in mind, using natural terrain instead of man-made berms and trails. It might take a few runs to bed in, but once a few ruts and holes develop it will be perfect.
The grass has been cut down, but some of the bushes are still on the fast inside lines. If you want to straight line this section you are going to have to pull up and over, or plow straight through the green stuff.
The fastest line is straight through here.
As the track starts to tilt a bit steeper a bit more dirt appears, and the corners tighten up a bit.
With not a rut or catch berm in sight it's going to be a sideways slip and slide until riders cut in a proper racing line.
As with every other course here at Crankworx, the ground of the DH track is completely waterlogged and saturated to the point that water can no longer soak in. It's not going to dry out, and it's only going to get more sloppy.
Just a bit steep as the track transitions from an open slope and into trees.
Don't let the camera angle fool you into thinking this is flat and easy. It's near vertical, full of mud and roots, and funnels into a serious off-camber.
Grip it and rip it... If you can.
The woods are a constant combination of big sweeping corners, off-cambers, and jumps. Get them right and you will have speed and flow even in the mud. Get them wrong and you might just slide all the way into Switzerland.
We can't wait to see riders drifting through this steep off-camber.
The ground level view shows just how muddy it is in the trees.
It's soft and deep.
Eliot Jackson and Bas van Steenbergen discuss what it's going to be like to land on this off-camber and slide all the way down through the natural catch berm.
Three meters wide the whole way down, no worn in line, and essentially a clean slate for the riders to work with this weekend.
The woods here are full on and never let up. Each tech bit links right into an equally challenging section, and with no obvious line bed in yet, everyone is just guessing at this point.
Underneath all of that mud there are lots and lots of roots. Some are already visible, but we can only imagine how many more will turn up when the mud gets pushed around a bit more.
If you've ever seen footage of the WC and World Championship races held here in the past, you might recognize this gully as one of the more iconic sections of the track.
It's going to look like a muddy bobsled race through here.
One last stepdown marks the end of the woods and leads riders right into some fast and open flat corners.
Flat open corners made up of nothing but mud and grass.
The track stays mostly in the open from here to the bottom, again following the natural fall line of the terrain and with speed and flow in mind.
It is going to be mental through here once riders rip the soft surface to shreds.
Slick and muddy corners lead to the final road gap on the track where riders will have the finish line in their sights.
There's a lot of history right here in this 20 meters of track. The last rider to ever ride through here did so on his back, losing the World Championship in the process, back in 2004.
One fast off-camber and you are home free... Though stopping might be a bit of an issue in the grassy finish arena.
The DH pits nestled into the natural setting of Les Gets.
Still in a sling, Loic Bruni is here and pumped to see his friends take on this beast of a DH track.