It’s been a long time coming but finally at the last round of the UCI DH World Cup, we saw what everyone had been waiting for… Tahnée Seagrave taking her first Elite-level World Cup win—congratulations Tahnée!
That weekend, we were also close to seeing Loris Vergier take his first Elite-level win too, but Aaron Gwin put paid to that dream—at least for now—securing his fourth win on the Leogang track, crowning him the undisputed master of the Asitz mountain.
Unfortunately, a number of high-profile riders of the French variety—namely, Rémi Thirion and Loïc Bruni—fell victim to the Austrian bike park, both sustaining pretty bad injuries. We wish them healing vibes and can’t wait to see them bring the fight later this season. But now to Vallnord, Andorra, the jewel of the Pyrenean mountains, for the fourth round of the 2017 UCI DH World Cup.
Widely regarded as one of the best tracks from last season, this year the riders don’t have to wait until the end of the year to race it. Vallnord is a wild and loose kind of track if the weather behaves itself, and in the wet, it can be one of the most challenging tracks on the circuit thanks to the steep, tricky sections in the lower half of the course.
Straight out of the start gate, riders fire through a relatively mellow (flat) section of woods, but soon face a number of sizeable gap jumps, and then on to two big bridge sections cutting over fire-roads below. The track soon gets steeper and trickier, thanks to the combination of multiple tight line choices between trees over expanses of inner tube-shredding rocks. As it wends its way down the hillside, there’s large sections of off-camber trail followed by steep sections where the track opens up to give riders plenty of line choice.
Three big jumps propel the riders out of the woods, followed by a few big berms, and then it’s back into a twisty woods section before more loose, open turns and over a few awkward-looking jumps. The woods are never far away though, keeping the riders on their toes, with awkward lines and sudden steep drops. Plenty of spots for weary riders to come undone.
Survivors find themselves out in the open, rushing towards the finish line, the penultimate feature being a big drop, followed by a catch berm just before they reach the timing beam.
Last year we saw dust-bowl carnage for a number of riders as they tried their hardest to make the last race of the season count. The final race of 2016 was all going to plan until a rain shower closed in on the last few riders at the top of the hill.
In Elite Women we saw Rachel Atherton cap her utterly dominant season by taking the win 6.5 seconds up from Tracey Hannah, followed by Myriam Nicole, who herself had had an incredible run after qualifying in first place. Sadly for Myriam, race day just didn’t come together for her.
In the Elite Men’s race, we saw an epic battle between Gwin and Hart for the overall World Cup title. Qualifying day saw Gwin pretty much securing the title, with a lazy Sunday mosey down the hill on Sunday enough to have the title within his grasp. Only a DNF or DQ from Gwin would allow Hart a chance to take the title.
With broadcast cameras trained on Alexandre Fayolle in the hot seat, the rain began to fall for the final 20 riders. Using all his knowledge and expertise, Minnaar managed to overcome the rain and crossed the line 2.7 seconds up on Fayolle. Not even Loïc Bruni could better the South African’s time, but plucky Englishman, Danny Hart, rose to the challenge, taking 2.8 seconds off Minnaar’s time. The race was on.
With the track becoming ever greasier as the seconds ticked by, we saw Ferran Jorba Prats from Spain take the track. Jorba Prats, racing his last World Cup, had a fantastic qualifying but with the rain drenching the top of the course, he slid to around 16 seconds back, later crashing in the woods and finishing in a lowly 79th place. Two Frenchmen were next; Pierron and Thirion, but neither of them could do anything to dent the top times. Then came Gwin. His one and only task was to make it down in one piece, bike between the tape and without any kind of mechanical. Sure enough, Gwin crossed the line in 55th place, 22.26 seconds behind Hart but the overall winner of the 2016 season. The biggest winning negative margin in history perhaps? Or maybe the very definition of ‘slow and steady wins the race’.
Note * denotes World Championship year.
Pinkbike will be providing you with the best daily coverage from our awesome team of photographers and tech wizards in Vallnord this week. There’ll be the usual eye-candy photo epics from the track walk on Wednesday, practice on Thursday, qualifying on Friday and finals on Saturday, as well as a smattering of tech reports throughout. For a full rundown of the schedule, check it out here
For the Elite Women and Elite Men finals, you can watch the action live on Red Bull TV or via a local broadcaster (e.g. The Bike Channel in the UK) from 13:00 local time/CEST on Saturday 1st July (12:00 BST // 04:00 PDT // 07:00 EDT // 21:00 AEST // 23:00 NZST).