We’re past the midway point in the UCI World Cup DH Mountain Bike World Cup calendar and for the fifth round we’re returning to Lenzerheide in Switzerland. Last year was the first year of racing here at Lenzerheide so the honeymoon is officially over and riders will be keen to see whether things have changed on the track.
This resort oozes picture-postcard stuff with cute wooden chalets, chilled out dairy cows, lush green pastures overlooked by pristine snow-capped mountains and a crystal-clear lake. There’s no doubt it’s going to be yet another picturesque and exciting weekend of racing but don’t forget the cross-country Olympians-in-training are also in town so that that means the downhill crowd will be racing on Saturday.
Lenzerheide has a contract with the UCI to host this and one more World Cup race weekend and after that, in 2018, the resort will host the big daddy; the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships, so the resort will be keen to make sure they deliver a race that will work like clockwork this weekend.
Coming into Lenzerheide last year the pits and internet were awash with people still wondering how Aaron Gwin managed to win chainless at Leogang, so it was natural that everyone’s attention was on the Specialized Racing pits trying to sneak a peek at what seemingly essential component he might ditch on race day for the hell of it. That weekend it was scorchingly hot in Lenzerheide and the new bike park style downhill track was taking a beating like no other. However, being well built by the local trailcrew, the hard-packed dirt surface held up although there were mammoth dust clouds pretty much every time a bike hit a corner. The natural top section presented a variety of line choices for the riders whilst the full out flat out bottom section was insanely fast. Some riders unfortunately didn’t make it all the way down, tumbling at the last section; the snake-like twisting track where speeds were at their max and jumps had berms for landings.
However, this time last year it was the silent South African that managed to hold seemingly perfect lines on his race run and at the same time steal a record off his teammate.
WHAT DO THE RIDERS THINK?
What do the riders themselves think about the Lenzerheide track and what's their most memorable section? We asked a few and here's what they said:
Connor Fearon, Kona Factory Team
The Lenzerheide track is my favourite track of the year. It's a short track that's fast as hell the whole way down with a lot of sweet turns, big jumps, and rooty woods. The best part about the track here is that there's not very much pedalling.
Lenzerheide is one of those that could seem a bit simple from track walk but is a pleasant surprise when practice begins. Super high-speed bike park mixed in with a few low-speed technical sections is a breath of fresh air, like Meribel was in 2014 but without its hero dirt! The hard-packed bike park terrain takes a bit of getting used to but it has some good flowing sections that other tracks lack. The big low-speed drop in one of the last wooded sections stands out to me as a section were more technically skilled riders thrive (such as Remi Thirion's foot plant down it in 2015). All in all a great track to race in a fantastic location.
Edward Masters, Bergamont Hayes Factory Team
I really like the Lenzerheide track, it's got a good mix of everything and when it's dry and dusty there's nothing better than having a lake at the finish line!
Emilie Siegenthaler, Pivot Factory Racing
Lenzerheide hasn't been kind to me in the past; a mechanical last year and a big crash the year before at the Swiss Cup where I end up injuring my kidney. I'm hoping to have luck on my side this year, considering I love the short, fast track - it should suit me well. Racing on home soil is very special, it gives you that extra motivation but it’s also important for me to show to my own country that mountain biking is more than cross-country, that downhill racing is alive and well! My favourite part of the track is probably the wide, open section at the top, for its speed and the crazy crowd that is always going wild there! Can't wait!
So there was Rachel just riding along at warp speed in the woods at Lenzerheide and like she had done ten times previously that weekend, lined up and dropped off the massive step-down. This time however she had a new challenge; a trail crew/marshal/UCI official/tourista was standing in the way! Cue swear words and things unbecoming a lady of the Realm.
With almost a million hits this little video went slightly viral and immediately caused an uproar within the community with things like "how stupid is that guy", "utter madness", “the UCI need to sort their s**t out” and so on...However, if you look closely at the video, just before the drop a marshall has a yellow flag waving indicating oncoming riders to slow down and be aware of riders or people on track. I guess Rachel was going too fast to see it. Either way her swearing is hilarious.
LOOKS LIKE THEY'RE READY
Who says the Swiss don't have a sense of humour? After watching this video the organisers put together in preparation for the weekend it's pretty clear they've got the subtle comedy factor dialled up to 11.
As with anything in Switzerland, expect everything to run like clockwork; for the track to be in perfect condition and the hospitality to be precisely arranged. Although someone needs to tell the guy with the starting pistol at the end of the video not to point the gun to his face with his finger on the trigger - yikes!
A few weeks away from racing has given riders and chance to regroup mid-season ready for round five in Lenzerheide (or is that regroup or regurgitate last night's dinner and many litres of beer if the recent Morzine pub scene is anything to go by...)
Tahnee has been off the bike at home in Wales and working hard at the rehab center after damaging her elbow before Fort William, so she should be back on top form. Manon's form continues and she has also been back in Wales and winning British nationals, it will be a close call between 2nd and 3rd. Rachel is Rachel, and will surely continue her record-breaking charge and win 11 World Cups in a row barring catastrophe.
I feel like Minnaar could be in line for the win on the Swiss soil he looked so comfortable on when topping the podium here last year. Gwin may slow slightly now the overall is so close to his grasp, and Vergier has proven form recently, but does the young Frenchman have the focus it takes the climb the final step? - Paul Aston, Pinkbike's World Cup Soothsayer
Check out Justin Leov’s excitement when he secured his premium spectator position for the weekend last year. You too can be just as stoked as Justin because Lenzerheide is just a short drive or train ride from Zurich and with tickets costing 15CHF per day or 25CHF for a weekend pass you'll be super pumped in no time watching all the action in the sunshine. Talking of which...
A PERFECT DAY
At the start of the weekend last year a certain Greg Minnaar said that he was struggling to come to grips with the Lenzerheide track. Minnaar had qualified sixth and so everyone’s attention moved to the Loic-Gwin-Fearon tussle for the top three fastest times that day. Come race day Minnaar put to use to his years of knowledge and experience of race craft and secured a time of 3:00.535 - almost making the sub-two minute mark - and from there on in watched five other riders do their best to knock him off the hot seat. None succeeded. But this wasn’t just any old win; this win earned him a place in the record books by beating his teammate Steve Peat for the most World Cup victories in Elite-level men’s DH.
MAKE THAT FOR TWO
It wasn't just Minnaar who had a great day either. Australian, Dean Lucas said he felt right at home on the dusty trails. Having qualified 26th, Lucas had an exceptional first and second sector out in Switzerland last year and ended up taking the third spot on the podium; his first ever podium finish of his UCI World Cup career.
TAKING THE PLUNGE
Riding from a top three qualifications spot all the pressure was on Connor Fearon last year, especially after such an amazing result at Leogang against a chainless American.
Riding on the edge of the track with dust-tsunamis being created in his wake, Fearon was nearing the finish line when he went straight out the front door on the Plunge drop. Right in front of the crowds and the broadcast camera.
Steve Peat has gone and got himself another amazing custom paint job for his Santa Cruz V10 and this one gives a nod to the local Lenzerheide farm life. He’s even got coordinated “pyjamas” too. Don’t forget Peaty has a bit of a special connection with Lenzerheide, after all he helped design the downhill track with Claudio Caluori.
ALMOST A BLANK SHEET
ELITE MEN RESULTS - LENZERHEIDE
Santa Cruz Syndicate
Lapierre Gravity Republic
Devinci Global Racing
ELITE WOMEN RESULTS - LENZERHEIDE
GT Factory Racing
Madison Saracen Factory
The finals takes place on Saturday 9th July, with the live broadcast commencing at 14:30 local time.
Stay tuned to Pinkbike.com throughout the weekend for all the latest news from the fifth round of the UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup 2016, including live timing, photo stories and tech content.