David Vazquez and Simon Burney walked the classic downhill track in Slovenia which will open the 2019 World Cup. We talked about Maribor in past & future and DH track trends.
Dave Cullinan on Schwinn's Straight Eight in 1999.
In 1998 Martin Whiteley, then the UCI Mountain Bike Coordinator and World Cup Technical Delegate, walked the downhill track on Pohorje mountain in Eastern Slovenia above the city of Maribor. It was after the Slovenian National Championships race was held on the track which was to host the first World Cup race in Slovenia in May next year. Rider representative Giovanna Bonazzi visited earlier and suggested the start was moved lower down to the top of the second chairlift.
The Slovenian Champs race started on top of the gondola, it was a long run to the bottom with lots of pedalling in the top part. The rest is history. In 1999 Maribor won the UCI Rainbow Award for best World Cup downhill race of the season. The event, especially the track, took everyone by surprise.
Maribor hosted seven more World Cup stops including a series final with cross-country race included in 2007. The last one was held there in 2010. A lot happened after that.
The 2003 Maribor World Cup
A gondola tower collapsed, a new gondola was put in operation, the lift and hotel company went bankrupt, the park closed down… After the operation was taken over by the city of Maribor, things slowly started picking up. A number of National events and iXS European Downhill Cup races were held, the interest for another top-level besides the Ladies Alpine Ski World Cup returned, Maribor placed a bid again and here we go, it’s back in Mercedes Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup the calendar for 2019 and 2020.Two Decades Later
20 years after Martin Whiteley it was David Vazquez turn to be the UCI Technical Delegate, and Simon Burney, the UCI Deputy MTB Coordinator, walking the Pohorje track with Maribor World Cup Director Iztok Kvas and the joint TV production crew of Red Bull Media House and TV Slovenia. Cooperation is an important part of the trick how we got nine downhill races in the 2019 series.
The track nowadays, like it hosted this year’s iXS EDC opening race in April and the Unior DH Cup final in September, is about 2.6km long with an elevation drop of 450m.
“The location and the course are amazing as we all know,” says David who took part in all but one World Cup event in Maribor. “The course has still everything we need for a World Cup downhill race, so we are only looking to add some new fresh sections at the bottom to suit for fastest hardest line options compared to the past iXS Cups and also a bit better TV coverage without losing any performance of the course at all. A couple of new jumps at the start and at the bottom and we are ready to go! Everyone is going to love it so much, it’s a bit of a return to the great old-school courses, and this one in particular amazed all the industry and fans all around the globe!”
Will we see Sam Hill race the 2019 Maribor World Cup? Sam won here in 2007 and 2008.
“From my point of view it looked great with a lot of natural very interesting sections and a little bit of everything,” added Simon before moving on to other aspects or organization. “With regards to the infrastructure, most of what we need is in place, just some decisions to be made by the LOC with regard to spectators, parking/park-and-ride, where they access the course, stuff like that, and then some work to do on the location of various expo partners, teams, podium, big screens… but nothing that can’t be figured out and quite normal they have these decisions to make!
Red Bull TV also did a course walk with Slovenian TV and the camera plan is developing.
Overall it was a worthwhile visit with an organizer who is very keen to do the best event possible, so we are definitely excited to be back in April!”
It seems that everyone who’s ever travelled to Maribor events is eager to return. It’s the track, the venue and finally, unlike the ski villages, a vibrant city of 100.000 people just minutes away from the finish area.
“From what I see and hear everyone is super excited,” stated David. “The rumour that it could be back has been around almost all season long and the riders are excited to come back.
“I think it’s great we’ve managed to get one extra round in for downhill, they’ve always been asking for more races and we’ve been able to do that,” Simon adds. “It’s cool to come back to Maribor, the history of it, everybody enjoyed it, everyone liked the course. It’s nice to come back but again it’s been nine years since we’ve been so that the new generation of riders, unless they’ve come for an iXS race, they’ve not experienced it. They’ve heard about it, I’m sure older teammates have been telling them stories.
Maribor and Les Gets they’ve both got history but for a whole generation it’s a new place to come to. It’s still something that kind of ties into the earlier days of the sport. There are some good stories, a lot to talk about, the media will like it.”
David Vazquez has raced in every World Cup race in Maribor except for 2010.
“1999 was the first year, it was a great surprise for everybody with the super nice track,” the Spaniard remembers. “Then 2000, then 2001 when I got injured, and 2002. Four years in a row. Then from 2007. I retired in 2009 and missed 2010.”
But ninth place was by far his best result, he also remembers… “I arrived injured in ’99 and didn’t do so well. In 2000, I qualified really well in 4th place but then I crashed in the final run and finished ninth. In 2001, I had a huge crash on the last jump and broke my collarbone. And 2002 wasn’t great, so… I hope I’ll have more fun here working for the UCI, haha.”
The original 1999 track seems like a myth these days. Many changes were made since then but the slope, the variety and some classic sections remain.
“It was always a liked track, one of the favourites at the time, especially the first year, it was amazing,” David remembers his visits with the Specialized and then Giant squad. “It was super long which we liked at that time, with big jumps and a lot of natural sections and some berms. Then it became shorter with more berms, still super good but last two years (of first four) were very different from the first year. But the rock garden was always crazy. It was always a great mix of fast sections, natural sections, fast and slow bits… The slope was great. It was a really difficult course to do well on.”
The trends in downhill tracks moved on but it just might be that a good old-school mix of everything still works in 2019.
“We need more old-school stuff than bike park style that we sometimes have,” UCI’s number one technical DH man Vazquez says. “The bike parks have developed so much that it is sometimes hard to find a natural line. We need some fresh sections which will develop some new lines during the training and will challenge the riders. If it’s all well packed and ridden all season long and in races then it’s not that interesting. It’s always up to the organizer to do it like they want to and in the end, it’s up to the riders if they like it or not. I’m here to see all the logistics and safety but the style of the course is up to the organizers.”
There is a lot of variety in the 2018 tracks and the ones for 2019 and 2020. There’s Lošinj and Fort William and everything in between. It is hard to identify the trend of the downhill tracks. Is there one or should the tracks just be different?
“In the UCI we are trying to have a mixture of different courses in the World Cup. It’s good to have races of different styles. Riders like it that way as well as TV,” Vazquez concludes.
For the next years, even in the World Championships, there are many tracks we know, then Lousa which the European riders know and Snowshoe which the US riders know. Two new tracks at the highest level of the sport and two classic venues returning, Maribor and Les Gets.
“It’s always good to have new races in the World Cup,” says David. “Lousa and Snowshoe both had races before and together with Maribor that is known from the past it’s three sort of new venues. Four with Les Gets. I was there two weeks ago and I was looking forward to seeing a bit more of the 2004 World Championships course in. I tried to give some input so it’s not as simple as for the Crankworx even though there’s been great feedback from the riders. They like it as it is but there should be some improvement. It’s also difficult to know what the riders want: they like to go fast, the bikes are asking to go super-fast, the technology lets you go super-fast. If you go a little bit old school they might not like it that much in the beginning but we try to give them a mixture, not too much of new school super-fast courses, all bermed out. The balance is very difficult.”
The iconic moment Peaty went down at the Les Gets World Champs.