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Point: Bring Back Dual Slalom

Nov 5, 2021
by Matt Wragg  
Header for Matt s Op Ed pieces.

I believe that mountain biking would be a better place if we had a second chance to see the riders in action at a DH World Cup weekend. It took a while with several false starts, but these days the short track is considered a huge boost to an XCO race weekend, so why couldn’t downhill have something similar?

After thinking it through, I think dual slalom is what a DH World Cup weekend is missing.


What are our criteria? Firstly it needs to be a gravity discipline (I know, duh), it needs to be TV and fan-friendly and it needs to have a (relatively) low level of risk. Dual ticks all those boxes.

If we try to apply the XC short track formula to DH it doesn’t work. You can’t make a DH race shorter and more intense. Putting riders head-to-head in a contact discipline is another non-starter here as the chance of injury is far higher and we need to keep in mind that the whole point of the event is to support the DH, not compete with it or ruin riders before they reach the start hut. Ok, you could try a Crankworx-style Air DH, but then you're back off up the mountain away from the fans and TV cameras.

Dual slalom is fun, it's fairly low risk, you only need a small slope to run it, so you can hold it down where all the fans are, and it is low cost for event organisers. While Red Bull may demand more for the live feed, I for one would be entirely happy to watch the world's best downhillers duke it out through a series of cones in a muddy field. I just want to watch what happens when it rains and half the field slide out on the flat, grass turns.


4X Is Not the Answer

"But what about 4X?" I hear you say. The saying goes that those who do not learn from history are cursed to repeat their mistakes, so we need to conduct a brief autopsy of 4X to appreciate where it went wrong. And yes, I know suggesting that 4X is dead will lead to angry letters from Chris Roberts and the three other people who still care about 4X, but sometimes you have to take a hit for the greater good.

To understand where 4X failed we need to look at its roots. Back in the 90s someone realised that seeing our favourite racers twice in a weekend is better than seeing them just once. They added a dual slalom race to the World Cup weekend and it was great for a while. Soon after, some bright spark decided that dual slalom would be even more exciting if the riders competed on the same course, in a full contact race, which became duel. Of course, what is more exciting that two riders duking it out? Four of them! And so was born 4X.

The fundamental problem is that it was a separate race. While it was fun to see the best downhillers battle it out in dual slalom, pretty soon they began to realise that the effort and risk of 4X racing was detracting from their ability to perform in the big show, the DH. Former BMXers started showing up, taking the discipline seriously and introducing a whole new physicality, which sounded the death knell for 4X as part of the World Cup weekend. I have met Michal Prokop and can confirm that I would not fancy lining up in the gate next to him.

As a discipline in its own right 4X was stillborn from the outset. At the world-level the tracks cost up to a quarter of a million dollars to create and most are bulldozed at the end of the weekend, which is way too high a cost for an emerging discipline to bear. Worse than that is the fact that at the grassroots level it just did not work.

More than a decade ago now my mates were pretty regular at Chicksands and we would even race from time to time. Those races would have full start lists if they stayed in the South, but once the series headed outside the Home Counties the rider numbers fell off a cliff. I remember racing a grey, rainy weekend at Hamsterley in maybe 2007, some seven hours’ drive north of London. There were less than half the riders who had been at Chicksands a few weeks before. For whatever reason, riders were not happy to travel to race.


bigquotesI bet Sik Mik would be kicking himself at retiring too soon as I have no doubt he would have bruised the egos of more than a few up-and-coming youngsters.

I think a dual slalom qualification race as part of the DH World Cup weekend would avoid these pitfalls. For a starter, if it is part of the DH programme, you don't need the grassroots in the same way. You just need to convince downhillers to buy a cheap hardtail and some flags. That could also maybe help create a way into the sport for new riders. Because we're going to need places for riders to train, so riders new to the sport could start riding dual - a fun discipline that requires a simple and relatively cheap mountain bike.

Picture this: As the season grinds down to the wire Loris Vergier and Loic Bruni are neck and neck for the title with 50 points on the line for Friday evening's dual race. It's raining, they're on silly, little bikes and fighting for every ounce of grip on the off-camber turns. Does that not sound like something you'd watch?

Maybe you'd get privateers getting really good on the little bike over the winter as racing the dual can net them enough points to pre-qualify for the next season of World Cups. Hopefully it would give them a rare bonus chance to get on the live feed.

Then I have two words for you: Kade Edwards. What could someone like him do with a format like this? I bet Sik Mik would be kicking himself at retiring too soon as I have no doubt he would have bruised the egos of more than a few up-and-coming youngsters.

I don't know how it would all work in practice, having never raced a World Cup DH, there are people way more qualified than me to work out the nuts and bolts, but I can tell you that just writing about this has me giddy with excitement at the prospect. Surely I'm not alone here?

Pinkbike editor Mike Kazimer doesn't agree that dual slalom needs to return - you can read his counterpoint here.

Editor's note: if you're a big fan of dual slalom, check out the Crankworx Rotorua live broadcast at 9:30 PM PST today.

Author Info:
mattwragg avatar

Member since Oct 29, 2006
754 articles

  • 31 2
 Yes, bring back DS at all DH races period!
  • 25 4
 i dont think I would want to see Loris Vergier and Loic Bruni decide their WC overall on a wet and slippy dual track. Would prefer them to settle it on the actual WC track.
  • 6 0
 I agree, keep the WC DH points separate. Maybe someone's already mentioned it, but I think they'd be better off incentivizing with prize money instead. Like a side show, and since it would be more of a spectator (in person and online) type of sport, they might be able to bring in enough advertiser/sponsor money. Enough for elite DH racers to justify the effort, and enough to potentially change a privateers year from a struggle to a success.

But more importantly, with the caveat of having no clue what goes into organizing one, I think there should be more WC DH races each season...
  • 1 0
 XCC works because your grid position is determined by how well you do in short track. So the incentive is that you get a better start in the race (i.e. qualifying). But a DH race isn't a mass start, so how do you incentivize the riders?
Prize money? It'd need to be enough that their sponsors are happy to let them risk a WC DH win, and now it's expensive. If it's not linked to the main race then you'll get ring ins competing, unless you restrict entry.
Points? I agree it'd be no fun seeing the DH title decided on the DS course.
Qualifying position? So would it somehow replace the DH qualifying?
Maybe time bonuses? winner gets -1s, 2nd place -0.5s?
I just can't see how you can run DS linked to DH without points, which we agree wouldn't be good.
  • 3 0
 @Mike-Jay: make dh a mass start
  • 1 0
 @makripper: That would be slightly insane!
  • 1 0
 Agree that DS should not be part of the DH points. Frankly, it probably shouldn’t affect the pointy end of the big race at all, at least until it proves its worth.

And without that, it’s hard to see how it becomes the priority for top riders. The question is whether that’s necessary for it to be a valuable addition.

But you could play around with qualifying rules to get the rest of the field engaged. The DS points leader could be automatically qualified, or the top 4 riders for the DS could get a qualifying time bonus. Maybe that rounds winner could get an automatic entry as well.

That would be a great way to get a bunch of fully engaged participants without letting a sideshow bonus event swing the major race or series.
  • 5 0
 I think people need to make a choice, and then what to do going forward will be a lot clearer. Do you want some kind of spectacle that gets the big names from the DH in front of the cameras/spectators earlier in the WC weekend, or do you want a legitimate world-cup level race discipline? If the former, it's just a really expensive pixie bike race or pit bike limbo contest. If it's its own thing, specialists are going to master it and to some degree take it over, if it pays at all. If it's gonna be a real race discipline people can become emotionally invested in to pay their dollars and cheer their favorite riders, it's probably a good idea to grow some grass roots and use those bulldozers to make more tracks, not flatten them. If it's a spectacle, you're competing with all the individual and team and sponsor content creation of WC DHers having fun that is already being made. I love slalom, but the qualies and brackets and lane differentials and limited practice make the whole thing just brutally long and repetitive compared to other race formats. Steep hill to climb to grow the sport
  • 5 0
 I'll never forget the fun I had watching the first Olympic MTB qualifier at Shanty Creek, Michigan where I toted a seemingly bottomless backpack full of Labatt Blue following the racers all over the mountain course on Saturday. On Sunday, all the racers and spectators could be found hanging out at the Dual Slalom race, having picnics, drinking beer, grilling, all under sunny skies and cool breezes. I even got to chat with Missy Giove and Tinker Juarez for a bit while I sipped on a beer....as the Dual Slalom racing was the centerpiece, it was the casual vibe of hanging out, cheering alongside the course, and generally having a great time. Fast forward to this century, and my local ski resort ran a dual slalom series for 5 years, ending in 2018. I competed on an old 'new to me' 2009 Specialized SX supercross racebike and had a blast - even got to trash talk Dakota Norton during my qualifier (before Dakota hit the big time) - sure he smoked me, but how fun is that!? We all shared slopeside beers, food, fun and camaraderie and had chairlift rides to the top......I can't understand why DS is not more popular - you don't need a lot of land to do it on either, unlike downhill or xc racing courses.....blah blah, - rant over.
  • 5 0
 the sooner this bs opinion sinks down to pink bike page to obscurity the better. yeh dual is fun and so is 4x but which is bigger? neither realistically 4xpro tour still happens uk national series still happens this last year has been huge for 4x but it doesn't get the coverage because the uci dropped it its still here though as for dual crankworx is all thats keeping it current and relevant its not as fun as 4x to race but both are equal in terms of spectator enjoyment erm so yeh keep on scrolling people. matt needs to get with the times its easy to judge something as dead when you haven't even bothered to do some simple research on the current state of 4x jesus hamsterly hasn't been used for years!!! so shows how much of a dinosaur you are. theres new tracks being built as we speak ready for this coming season that are gonna be here to stay in fact i can think of a fair few new tracks that have been built since the hamsterly days that matt likely knows nothing of. even with forestry putting a stop to racing at chicksands last year we still had a full season on some awesome tracks and with it likely being back in next season and at least one brand spanking new track in the east next year is gonna be even bigger for uk 4x
  • 14 6
 4X for the win... man I miss that format!
  • 2 0
 Friday night 4x with the DH race on Saturday used to be so good.
  • 15 3
 4X failed, not just because of the tracks. It also failed because it was a freaking gladiator sport that took out either the points leader or the rest of the pack who could make the race exciting. 4 sprinters pointed downhill on dirt in a drag race to the first, second, last turn...where ever the choke point was...and all of them leaned over the front of the bike taking each other out. It was just injury after injury after injury. Slalom, when synced properly is still a specialists game, but one where the other rider can't put you on your face every single time the gun pops.
  • 4 5
 @blowmyfuse: .... and the problem was??? Sounds like a great race!
  • 4 1
 @mikeinhoodriver: By mid-season, the World Cup pro class in 4X can easily get cut down by half. At one point, there weren't even enough racers to fill all the qualifying slots.

You can't market an event to the world if it's stars are on the sidelines. And you can't keep a deep talent pool for the event if racers 32 through 64 aren't even registered to give the fans a show.
  • 3 2
 4x was the best grass-roots discipline to race.
  • 3 1
 @blowmyfuse: 4X has evolved a LOT since then. Maybe the U.S would know this if they hadn't sold out on 4X for enduuuuhhhro
  • 1 2
 @nojzilla: if I'm correct, the Enduro was basically invented in Europe? But yeah....we are the "sellouts"? We already have BMX.which is basically 4X with more riders. Who need 4X?
  • 3 1
 @bman33: if you think BMX is anything like 4X you don't know shit
  • 1 0
 @nojzilla: I raced both extensively for yes. But please...continue. You seem to enjoy talking shit... we seem to be the same age, so we both know what WC 4X was (smash the guy in the first berm or awkward obstacles) and then they smoothed the jumps and made it more BMX. It's rad, but too much like BMX..and lest on this side of the pond
  • 3 0
 @nojzilla: ease up on the pissing contest. You're trash talking a guy who raced every phase of mountain biking at a high level and he did it respectfully
  • 1 0
 @blowmyfuse: did he though because i can't seem to find any evidence of that?

  • 1 0
 @pedaladdictioncollective: That's some bad detective work. @bman33 isn't Matt Wragg. Beer

And FYI, Roots and Rain doesn't even have all results for NORBA & UCI. Seb does a great job, but he doesn't have all the data. He'd love to I'm sure.
  • 1 0
 @blowmyfuse: i was referring to wragg
  • 1 0
 @pedaladdictioncollective: you tagged me and I wasn't talking to or about Wragg. Why?
  • 3 0
 @blowmyfuse: Have you ever seen both of us in the same room together? Wink

@pedaladdictioncollective, I never said I was any good at 4X racing (or any racing for that matter), just that I did it. And they didn't record the results for the open class and I was too cheap to buy a racing license.
  • 5 0
 Haha! 4x was on the table for greatness and the uci killed it as it meant kicking the xc boys out of the olympics! Would be good to see some head to head back at the races though! Although dual is pretty dull!
  • 2 0
 dual just drags on
  • 3 0
 DS is sooooo much better as a novel event that we see at Crankworx, Sea Otter, etc.... No point in putting it alongside World Cup DH. Having it the same weekend as World Cup DH would be the best way to kill sweet, sweet dual slalom. The current way we see it allows DH riders, enduro riders, etc to actually put their effort into a slalom race on specific weekends as it fits so well into the exact venues we see it at now. This is the silliest article Pinkbike has posted in a long time. Slalom is like ice cream, it is soooo damn good here and there but doesn't need to be with every meal.
  • 3 0
 Who’s Matt wragg? Has he ever been to a bike race? Is he sure he knows dual and duel are? Poor writing with actual fact! A pretty boring read for a fiction piece too! Try again Matt but this time with some effort. Do some real research maybe just watch a video of dual duel and 4x. Hope your next pinkbike article is worth a read!
  • 2 0
 bringing an extra Slalom bike which is way way different than the DH rig they are specializing in.. hoping the mtn or UCI (lol) makes a good track..swapping between the bike during the week..i'd rather Minnar/Lioc etc did what we want them to do, RIP ON DH!! (short track and XC, they ride the same bike)..
I'd much rather DH pulled the heck AWAY from these UCI suits and had a proper series! Why do we as fans (and the riders and industry) wait, globe trot, to race like 8 times a year..THIS IS A JOKE! Eli Tomac and AP7 line up like 25 times thru the year..And so does Roglic and Sagan (well these roadies race on average 70 days PER YEAR!)

DH Pros should be racing 15-20 events..That is the answer. Give the fans and the bike industry/venues what they ask for. A WC DH series that does not have a 7 month "break"..!
  • 1 0
 They all have a spare trail FS or hardtail as their pre race spin bike anyway. Just bring a smaller hardtail for racing and swap in a long seat post for pre DH race warm up spin (like the Eddy Clerte do at the Pump track world championships recently).
  • 2 0
 When exactly do they get to rude the DS amongst all the practicing and racing that seems to form a WCDH weekend plus we’re seeing so many injuries just from that who would want to take even more risk.

Plus if they bring back anything it’s got to be 4x
  • 2 0
 "Former BMXers started showing up, taking the discipline seriously and introducing a whole new physicality, which sounded the death knell for 4X as part of the World Cup weekend."
Does that mean that former BMXers won't be welcomed at the new dual slaloms because they'd also take DS seriously?
Thanks kind of a lame statement. If it's going to be competitive, I'd want to see those who do take it seriously. Wouldn't most people?
  • 2 0
 4x mostly happened because dual took too long, not because they just wanted to see more people head to head. Dual is not exciting to watch.

I've raced both, both are dangerous, however you can race and not get hurt if you're smart and put the physical training in - that's half the reason graves/lopes etc. were able to dominate. You think DH is safe by comparison?!

4x works, it just needs well thought-out tracks that are safe, how on earth do you think BMX works with so many participants? We've been honing the sport in Europe (shout out to the Euro series as well as the British) and this year the British tracks were the safest and most fun I've ever seen them in 8 years of racing. Mostly it's about having enough width in critical places.

Don't tarnish the sport and 4x's proponents, we should celebrate those who put effort in. The fact that some tracks built at DH venues were torn down after a race is not the sport's fault - that was venues making the decision - newsflash - you think the boneyard joyride course stays up through Winter in the busiest exit ski slope of one of the largest snowstorm resorts in the world? No!

BTW it's like 200+ racers and plenty of fans, the 3 people who care is a terrible dig.
  • 2 0
 I was thinking about an event for people who haven't been able to get a bike due to the supply crisis, or are waiting months and months for a warranty claim. I'd call it a Weep Off.
  • 3 0
 I'd 100% watch this. WC season isn't close to enough as is. I want more lol! Also I'd love to see a southern hemisphere WC series while it's their summer and our winter.
  • 1 0
 I'm not a fan of slalom unless it's for a bit of fun with buddies. It takes ages to race unless you have a savage quali cut off which annoys the majority of punters straight off.

Then if it's an interplanetary series of grass slalom that gets old real quick, grass is grass. So the answer to that would be giant slalom which is much more entertaining to the TV viewer as there are jumps etc but does not fix the time issue.

So my feeling is that for a riders only thing giant slalom could have legs, but as a TV product it's death. The old duel format could plug the gap but it doesn't have anything on 4x. Most of the issues stated in the article could be fixed with some simple sporting regs, want to race the DH? Gotta race 4x and vice versa.
  • 1 0
 One key thing about XCC is that it’s not at risk of becoming a specialty. Anyone with the legs to win XCC is also going to be at the pointy end of XCO. So you get one cohesive unified weekend with the same basic cast throughout.

But DS and 4x are specialties. And if a bunch of DS specialists show up to WC races I don’t think you get the vibe you’re after. Instead of being a supplement to DH racing it becomes it’s own thing held in DH’s shadow. You could avoid that by requiring a certain qually time/place on the DH track to get into the DS maybe?
  • 1 0
 4X did not decline because of its own making or because is inherently a bad format. It declined because of the UCI. They dropped the World Cup events in 2010 to make way for more XC events like XC eliminator this lead to all the money leaving the sport. NOT as good decision UCI.
  • 4 0
 Chainless DS to save the riders' energy for the DH
  • 2 0
 Agreed that 4x is not a good option for DH racers, but it's great as a standalone discipline that provides a warm-up for the specators and a tournament for the contestants.
  • 1 1
 Yes, but with a couple of jumps added in. Like mogul skiing comps. Jumps and style scoring would be great for spectators, add a little controversy, and the tricks would be much more relatable for fans than mega jumps of slopestyle comps.
  • 1 1
 Firmly in Matt‘s camp with this one. I would suggest a few changes to his plan though.
- only let a small field (16 riders) get into the elimination rounds.
- live streams tend to be boring, at least the Crankworx coverage is. Do a highlights video instead.
- a few cones on a muddy field can be fun, but if there is a small built section included like at Sea Otter, it makes it a whole lot more entertaining to watch.
And I fully agree with Dual Slalom being a great pathway into mountainbiking. Most importantly, it is a great discipline that is very accessible. You can turn up on any bike you have at home or a cheap hardtail and be competitive. Organizing races and building courses is relatively simple. Starting fees usually are low because of that. Races can happen close to where people live. So it is a great feeder discipline for all mountainbiking. But it will only attract the young riders if there are some big names racing.
  • 4 0
 Bellend who clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about…..
  • 2 0
 Good idea! I really hope UCI tests this out! Could just try it out in 2-3 races and see what is the feedback.
  • 3 0
 BMX background MTBers may thrive in dual, due to their BMX backgrounds
  • 2 0
 Just want to add that 2019 4X Worlds live stream had more viewers that the DH live stream did...
  • 3 0
  • 2 0
 Looks like a Session.
  • 1 1
 A DS track that has a mix of pumptrack, rock gardens, jumps, flat flag turns etc. The theme 4X with none of the contact.
  • 1 1
 Nice miss on not recognizing Dual Slalom at Crankworx!?!?! Kind of incomplete reporting.
  • 1 0
 Seriously PB. Dropped my post because ???? What a joke
  • 1 0
  • 2 3
 4X should accompany the UCI BMX series, not DH. 26" hardtail required.
  • 2 0
 an yet a 4X track requires riding down a hill....
  • 1 2
 @nojzilla: Not a lot of uphill bmx tracks. Keep smoking.
  • 1 1
 The majority of bikes at 4x races aren't 26" hardtails anymore but 27.5 trial/enduro bikes set up pretty stiff with a close range cassette
  • 1 1
 barely anyone in 4x uses a 26inch bike
  • 1 0
 @kernowding10: not many downhill bmx tracks either, unless you count events like the old Vans triple crown. My point is that just putting 4X bikes on a BMX does not make a 4X race. 4X is a down hill sport.....
  • 2 4
 Yes! DS would be some sort of qualification for DH.
  • 1 3
 I think Matt Wragg is a bloody geniusSmile

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