Opinion: World Cups in March Might be Playing with Fire (Errr Water), But It's Worth It

Mar 22, 2022
by James Smurthwaite  
3 weeks later in the year than Lourdes 2016 but still we re seeing concerning dustings of the white stuff.

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.

Holy Water - Finals Photo Epic - Lourdes DH World Cup 2017

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. 

Images for Lourdes Have Mercy - DH WC Round 1 Practice article.

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.

Tahnee Seagrave found out just how slippery it is on track not 30 seconds into her first practice run.

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.


  • 101 2
 Bring wc to South America we always have nice weather over here!!
  • 34 2
 They need to have WC races outside of Europe, although I know that was a challenge due to corona.
  • 14 1
 *Latin America...?
  • 5 4
 @4thflowkage: the real problems with that are logistics and finances. It costs a lot of money to host a world cup and there aren't many venues in South America that would be willing/able to cover it. It would also cost every team/privateer a huge amount to take all the people and equipment they need. Would be great to see new venues but it doesn't seem likely to be in a new continent
  • 10 1
 @timsim07: Maybe some of that Discovery money could be used to support WC racing outside of Europe
  • 10 2
 Remember the EWS in Colombia? That wasn't exactly nice weather.
  • 26 3
 @timsim07: While I'm inclined to agree Travel budgets will be impacted, South American travel is way less expensive than European travel as a general rule. Flights getting there tend to be about 1/4 of the price as a flight to Europe - I flew down to the southern tip of Chili this year and lived like a king due to favorable exchange rates. I'm flying to Ecuador in a few months, and the flight was about $330 USD from Seattle. Food is cheap. Gas is cheap. Literally everything is less expensive. Short of going to the Himalayas, the mountains there are the best in the world for elevation, and the MTB scene down there is crushing it these days.

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.
  • 13 3
 @William42: Maybe it's cheaper from America but most riders are Europe based......
  • 20 1
 @toad321: I get what you are saying but is the reason that most riders are European because the WC is by and large a European race circuit? I think saying that it’s too expensive for European racers to travel outside of Europe is disingenuous and unfair to the rest of the world. IMHO the current WC race circuit is hindering global DH racing development.
  • 5 1
 @benlouisc: Totally agree. It would be more expensive for European racers, but it would open the WC to so many more from the Americas. Mountain biking in the US - and I'm sure other places - is a sport mostly open to those with enough money to pay for it. Throw in needing to get US riders to Europe for most WC's and it becomes even more financially restrained. More races not requiring crossing oceans could spur more American (the continents, that is) growth in the sport.
  • 1 0
 @bocomtb: yeah there’s been multiple races there only one year it rained. Remember Fort William? Leogand? Literally half the season last year, the whole season the year before and half the season from then back.. remember rain in Chile or other Colombian EWS? Me neither.
  • 2 0
 @William42: now you got me researching south america and somewhere I could check out for endless Summer. Bariloche, Argentina looks insane. bike parks, incredible trail rides, the lake, rivers, cost of living. looks incredible!
  • 2 0
 @benlouisc: agreed and I’ll tell you what, it’s way more difficult for non European racers to go race in Europe than it is for Europeans to race elsewhere in the world
  • 1 0
 lourdes is literally the worst season opener.
  • 6 0
 @William42: It´s a country and is called Chile.
chili is some kind of texan food.
  • 4 0
 @AnibalR: no, he probably meant Chili's. its a restaurant chain in the states.
  • 2 0
 Why not do the first 6 weeks in the Americas with 2 SA and 2 NA, then move over to Europe for the next 4. Finish up with a race and the World Champs in South Africa, Oceania, or Asia.
  • 1 0
 @AnibalR: Damnit! I know better too! Now I look like a stupid idiot on the internet. Definitely the first time that's ever happened
  • 44 0
 replacing all the frenchies on my team with brits
  • 19 0
 I live in the SW of France. The weather forecast indicates no rain and sun until friday, cloudy but no rain on saturday, and sunny on sunday. Keep fingers crossed!!! Wink
  • 15 1
 Have a world cup in So Cal and you just might literally be playing with fire in March.
  • 6 0
 "The UCI have implemented policies to mitigate the effects of weather as much as possible"
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?"
  • 2 0
 And why are there 2 months between first two rounds? They could have done it in may… Surely a mud tyres lobby
  • 1 0
 @pasteque51: UCI coerced by Dirty Dan and his sidekick "Shorty"
  • 10 5
 Statistically there's more precipitation in April, May than in March in most part of Europe. We should stop thinking Spring = nice sunny weather. It can be, and then sure it's warmer than in March (in average). But stating that March is a risky time is a mistake. It is drier than April-May.
  • 7 6
 As someone who lives next to a ski resort, I have to disagree.
  • 7 0
 @mtb-jon: He's correct though.
  • 1 0
 I am so excited at the thought of a gong show/overdramatic race that turns out the be just normal and a bit moist.

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:

  • 2 1
 In Europe maybe, not in Lourdes
  • 1 0
 sorry fat thumbing
  • 3 0
 It bothers me when a race starts off dry and ends up a mud pit. It doesn't allow for an even playing field and the results you get are no longer based on who the best rider of the track was that day because the track changed mid-way through.
  • 3 0
 Just have more races. It must be great only have to perform for 5 mins 8 or 9 times a year as your job. It’s ridiculous how few races the season has especially when you compare it with most other cycling disciplines that take place outside
  • 4 0
 "world cup" my ass, call it the European Championship with a stopover in the USA.

It's like the world series of baseball lol. Stupid name.
  • 1 0
 what? uhhhhh ok.
  • 1 0
 @Intense4life: what I'm getting at is it's not a world cup at all, it visits 2 continents only.

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.
  • 1 2
 Continents aren’t country measured via diversity yes yours and mine seems gigantic but the World Cup is more about riders, country owner's and product reps etc. No sport has all country participation.
  • 2 0
 If the sport wants to grow, and become a bigger sport, attracting more money & sponsors, then this a neccessity. It has to be more than a summer sport. A longer length season, late March to October is feasible in my opinion. In that case you go to venues that can handle possible difficult conditions.
People have mentioned South America, the XC World Cup starts there in a few weeks.
  • 4 3
 WC overall winner should be able to tackle and salvage points when shit hits the fan , capitalize on the tracks that suits him/her and thats it.. even play field or not (rain at the end of the race, etc). THey should handle snow, cold, rain, bone dry, jet lag, shitty burritos and coors light ; ).
  • 1 0
 "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." A March race in Lourdes and no race at all weren't the only two options. If Lourdes could only accommodate March, maybe the UCI should have selected another (dryer) location.
  • 1 0
 it’ll be fine. whatever the conditions….happy to see the new season kick off w/o any covid restrictions. yeah the scheduling sucks for privateers. thoughts of a gofundme-like resource would come into play if I was tackling the WC on my own.
  • 1 0
 I am a weekend warrior constantly on the lookout for a good weather window to go shred 500km away from my home... When the storm comes, I will ride in any conditions because I am not bailing out if I am already on the spot and paid for lift tickets with 0 refund policy. Yeah I would love to see Pros suffering bad weather as well Big Grin Thank you
  • 1 0
 No matter what the season, a mere sprinkling of Lourdes holy water on the polished rocks of the Pic du Jer will create mayhem and the results will be a lottery. Mother nature will decide what the odds are!
  • 2 0
 WC in the Southern Hemisphere in March seems like a no brainer… Howcome Crankworks can do NZ but WC can’t?
  • 1 0
 They'd need to find a better track than the one Crankworx use. Apart from the larches section it's pretty dull by WC standards.
  • 1 0
 at the moment probably because of restrictions and the amount of people associated with WC compared to crankworks, but yeah I see where you're coming from, would love for a WC to be in my country
  • 2 0
 because uci
  • 2 1
 Its fun looking at all the mid 2010's pictures. Makes me feel like my DH bike is relevant again.
  • 1 1
 Feels like this should be a dicision for the riders to make ... or at least have some say in the decision. but I guess that's not really how the UCI rolls
  • 2 0
 No way. Riders will vote for their own self interest. These are professional athletes who want to win and get any advantage they can within the rules
  • 2 0
 Alpine sport, deal with it
  • 1 1
 O great, can't wait to hear loic complain about not moving race start times up because its going to rain etc etc etc
  • 1 0
 In Soviet Ireland, weather predicts you.
  • 1 2
 All this whining about the weather started at about the same time people started calling downhill courses "tracks".

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