The World Cup kicks off in just over a week with the holy pilgrimage to Lourdes.
If you're thinking that the start of racing has come around quickly, that's because it has. Only once in World Cup history has the series started in March, but that was in Pietermaritzburg
, at the tail end of the South African summer. That race was, dry, dusty and flat out, an early spring race in Europe will be a very different proposition.
Lourdes has kicked off the World Cup season every time it has been included in the calendar, but it has formerly been scheduled in April, with the earliest running on April 10, 2016
. Even at the last race there on April 30 2017
, there was snow on the ground for early morning practice sessions and this time around we're a whole month earlier, making the Pic Du Jer course an even more treacherous proposition.
The truth is, Lourdes' limestone track does not deal with rain well. A sprinkling of holy water can turn the rocky track into a slimy, slippery menace. Race fans will remember what happened five years ago when a storm ripped through the venue halfway through the men's finals, making the world's finest riders look like ducklings on ice and handing the win to a flying but fortunate Alex Fayolle. If you thought Les Gets last year was bad, then consider this, top 4 qualifiers at Lourdes in 2017 finished 76th, 75th, 72nd and 71st out of a field of 77 riders. The track was basically unridable. It's not just finals that would be affected by inclement weather, of course. A quick Google will fetch you dozens of videos of "LOURDES CARNAGE" and "DH CHAOS", testament to the fact this track doesn't take prisoners throughout the weekend.Looking ahead on Accuweather
, we're expecting highs of 15°C (59°F), but that dips overnight to a chilly but not alarming 5° (41°F) in Lourdes. That might be one thing at ground level in the town but add on the 1,500 foot (473 m) altitude to the top of the track and we could be in for some seriously challenging sessions. Thankfully, there's no forecast of rain yet, but it's very likely that frost and even snow will be a factor on the higher parts of the track. Juniors and women will be the most affected by any adverse weather as they generally ride earlier in the day, before the weather has warmed up to dry out the track. Isn't bad weather part of racing?
The obvious retort to all of this is that, of course, downhill is a mountain sport and weather is a huge part of it. We can't just call off a race because there's a bit of rain, this would have robbed us of iconic moments like Palmer in Åre, Balanche in Leogang or Hill and Hart's heroics in Champery, nevermind the logistical headaches it would create. The UCI have implemented policies to mitigate the effects of weather as much as possible, it's why the races have been moved to earlier in the day and we now have a category of protected riders that all compete in roughly similar conditions, and beyond that, any downhill track is constantly changing and evolving, that's part of the beauty of the sport, and adapting to the track in front of you is a key skill.
The chances are that the end of March was the only weekend that could have worked for Lourdes this year - in the summer months it is taken over as a pilgrimmage town and access to the funicular that takes riders to the top of rack and tourists to the Grotto, would be overwhelmed. Organizing a World Cup at any time of the year isn't easy and if it's a choice between a weather disrupted race in March or no race at all, I know which I'm picking every time.
The bigger problem with holding the race in March is that it is an outlier, two months removed from the rest of the series. The early scheduling will be difficult for riders from North America or Australasia who will have to travel halfway around the world for one race before flying home or book eight weeks' worth accommodation in Europe as they wait for the next round in Fort William. For many privateers, these costs will simply be too much to swallow.
A solution that seems to benefit everyone is simple, we need more World Cup rounds. This way a lottery results sheet doesn't have as much effect on the overall standings and racing can be spread throughout the year. This year, we have eight rounds, but with the promise of a new broadcaster and the increased revenue that could bring, is it unrealistic to hope for more in future?
In the short term, we're hoping for the best possible weather in Lourdes this weekend, of course, and hope the organisers can pull off another incredible round of the World Cup in the midi Pyrenees as we've seen before, but keep your eye out for a lottery weekend and some surprise results. Assuming the weather blesses us with a trouble-free race, check out Andrew Neethling's prediction picks on Beta here
Let's be real for a minute. The reason not to go is 100% because there aren't venues there that are willing to pay the UCI the outrageous fees they want. This is a "UCI blows and f*cks things up for DH as per usual."
The world cup is already moving to exclude privateers by cutting down on the number of riders who get to ride. It's not "the European cup" it's the world cup, and it's total bullshit there isn't a presence in South America. I can understand the Aussies and Kiwi's getting screwed, because of a less favorable exchange rate and more expensive travel, but shit man. South America has amazing DH opportunities that are being missed because the UCI f*ckin sucks.
chili is some kind of texan food.
Ah, so that explains why they scheduled a race in Lourdes in March.
"This year, we have eight rounds, but with the promise of a new broadcaster and the increased revenue that could bring, is it unrealistic to hope for more in future?"
We get a World Cup in March!!! That's freaking awesome.
At 1:12 in this World Cup recap is all you'll need to know about epic World Cups in inclement weather:
It's like the world series of baseball lol. Stupid name.
I can appreciate the logistics involved in taking the circus to Asia, Australasia, South America etc etc but my point stays the same, it's basically a Euro championship. Would we have different winners/overall if the tracks were in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan? Who knows.... because it aint going to happen sadly.
People have mentioned South America, the XC World Cup starts there in a few weeks.