The end of the 2018 World Cup DH season has almost come to pass, and similar in a way to how it started out at Losinj - a new location for the international circuit - the bookend of the season sees us in La Bresse in northeastern France, which for some will be a wholly new track but for others - the old guard - it has an air of familiarity to it.
The last time we saw international UCI downhill racing in La Bresse was back in 2011, and before that in 2009. For the former, these were the days of the domination of Gwin and Moseley on Trek, and in respect to the latter it was only Minnaar who managed to steal away two out of a total of seven rounds from Gwin that year, and La Bresse was one of them. La Bresse also holds dear to many a Frenchman’s heart too. It was here back in 2011 that on the podium, a fourth-placed finisher Fabien Barel announced his retirement from competitive downhill racing.
So will an old guard track be conducive to the old guard pack? No doubt there will be a fair few changes to the 2011 version, but will we see the likes of Gee Atherton and Minnaar shine? Or will the new breed make their mark on the revised track? How will the new overall champion want to race? Will Pierron want to race for the sake of racing or does he have his eyes on a new prize... the World Championship? Then again, this is his ‘home’ race so no doubt the hunger to win will be there.
With the title wrapped up for the Elite Men’s race, the women are still battling it out for the spoils. With Nicole still not right after her big injury in Val di Sole, the race is now between Seagrave and Atherton. Atherton showed her cards at the last round in Mont-Sainte-Anne, blowing everyone else out of the water, including what looked to be an on-form Seagrave. Judging by her social media posts, Seagrave has put the whole thing down to a learning experience and looks to have her mind-game on point going into La Bresse. It’s worth noting that although not having raced in the World Cup back in 2011, Seagrave did race the European Cup there a few months prior. With only 110 points behind Atherton and no points available for qualifying this last round - they’re rolled into the final race run points - it’s going to be a close run thing between the two*.
Someone to look out for this weekend is Mathilde Bernard who recently announced she’ll be racing at La Bresse. Those of you who follow Crankworx will remember Bernard as being the rider who managed to topple Jill Kintner in the Les Gets pumptrack competition a few months back. We’ve seen the resurgence of the men of France, so could we start seeing Bernard building on that momentum here in La Bresse and give Valentina Höll a run for her money?
Note * = there are many computations as to how Seagrave could deny Atherton the overall. Generally speaking it would mean Seagrave would have to win and Atherton would have to finish no higher than 6th place for Seagrave to take the overall. However all Atherton would need to do is to finish higher than Seagrave and the World Cup would be hers. Let battle commence!
We don’t know much about the new track for 2018. If the old track was anything to go by, it had multiple steep off camber sections but some riders remarked how it lacked the flow of other tracks during that era, so hopefully things have changed somewhat.
An unofficial POV course preview has been doing the rounds on the internet for a few months but until we actually get boots on the ground, the shape of the track is largely guesswork. So the guesswork is: lots of tight twisty sections in the woods, a few tables in an open section beside the woods, and then the track gets progressively steeper back in the woods as it winds itself down to the finish line area. There's a section in the open right before the finish line so it should be a pretty good spectacle for the fans behind the tape.
Credit: Pierre-Charles Georges, Team Commencal/100%
If you want to also see an alternative view of the track - or at least parts of it - here’s Rémi Thirion ripping it to pieces in this product video. Did I mention that La Bresse is Thirion’s hometown?
Credit: Slicy Products
What Happened At The Last Round
In the Elite Women’s race everyone was waiting to see what would transpire between the British riders Tahnée Seagrave and Rachel Atherton. Before we get on to what happened there, let’s rewind earlier in the finals when Carina Cappellari took to the course and although sliding out on the rocks and crashing, she secured a time that afforded her the hot seat for a while. It wasn’t until Monika Hrastnik took to the track and started to improve on Cappellari’s time, eventually crossing the line with 16 seconds to spare. It wasn’t long before Hrastnik would be bumped off the hot seat. First it was Mariana Salazar, then Marine Cabirou, and then Tracy Hannah (who managed to do it while suffering a mechanical in the final section).
Riding a World Cup race for the first time since coming back from injury a few races earlier, Myriam Nicole would end up crashing early on, and a wonky seatpost would mean she would have to retire. Then the British riders were next. Atherton had an exceptional run and lit up the splits green by a massive margin to Hannah’s time, and crossed the line with a 20-second margin. When Seagrave took to the track it was clear she wouldn’t be able to get close enough to Atherton’s time, and she crossed the line - albeit with a big smile - 5 seconds behind Atherton.
Credit: Red Bull
In the Elite Men’s race, Amaury Pierron had suffered a huge crash in practice earlier in the day, and everyone was wondering whether he would be in shape to snatch the overall title which was within his grasp. To secure his title he would have to finish ahead of Vergier.
Onto the actual race and it was Gwin’s teammate Angel Suarez who sat proudly in the hot seat while other riders tried their best to better his time. It was only until Charlie Harrison crossed the line did Suarez relinquish the seat. Harrison didn’t have to wait long until a threat in the form of Minnaar took to the track, but to huge gasps, the South African had a tumble in one of the tricky sections of the track, and lost all that time he had managed to have to his advantage.
With a bucketful of other riders going through that section, it was beginning to claim a few more victims, namely Iles and Macdonald. However it was Loris Vergier who managed to sail through the big holes and cross the line to bump Harrison off the hot seat. Vergier didn’t have long on there though, as Brosnan would scrape just over 3 seconds off the Frenchman’s run, leaving him to now wait for the final few men down the track. Despite being bruised and a bit roughed up, Pierron took to the track and showed consistency against Vergier’s time and slowly he would take the edge, crossing the line up on his compatriot and into World Cup history. The celebrations had to wait though - out of respect at least - there were still two riders out on track; Bruni and Hart.
Bruni was next up and he managed to carry his speed and precision all the way down, edging closer to beating Brosnan’s time. The last section was catching a lot of people out though as time after time riders seemed to lose out on the bottom half of the track. Not for Bruni though. He had managed to find enough time in the top section to lose at the bottom and he crossed the line up from Brosnan. While the jubilation from the Frenchman contained, everyone looked towards the screens as they saw Hart take to the track. However, Hart wasn’t able to best Bruni’s time and slotted into third place, and with that the French went wild; Bruni for the win and Pierron for the overall.
Credit: Red Bull
Rider StandingsELITE MEN
1st // Amaury PIERRON // FRA // 1088 // The bossman and overall 2018 winner
2nd // Loris VERGIER // FRA // 781 // -307 // No change
3rd // Danny HART // GBR // 776 // -312 // Moves up from 5th
4th // Troy BROSNAN // AUS // 776 // -312 // No change
5th // Luca SHAW // USA // 648 // -440 // Moves up from 6th
6th // Laurie GREENLAND // GBR // 646 // -442 // Moves down from 5th
7th // Loic BRUNI // FRA // 573 // -515 // New to top 10
8th // Brook MACDONALD // NZL // 522 // -566 // Moves down from 7th
9th // Aaron GWIN // USA // 481 // -607 // Moves down from 8th
10th // Samuel BLENKINSOP // NZL // 442 // -646 // Moves down from 9thELITE WOMEN
1st // Rachel ATHERTON // GBR // 1226 // No change
2nd // Tahnée SEAGRAVE // GBR // 1116// -110 // No change
3rd // Tracey HANNAH // AUS // 905 // -321 // No change
4th // Monika HRASTNIK // SLO // 689 // -537 // Moves up from 5th
5th // Myriam NICOLE // FRA // 640 // -586 // Moves down from 4th
6th // Marine CABIROU // FRA // 637 // -589 // No change
7th // Emilie SIEGENTHALER // SUI // 476 // -750 // No change
8th // Mariana SALAZAR // ESA // 436 // -790 // Moves up from 9th
9th // Cecile RAVANEL // FRA // 375 // -851 // Moves down from 8th
10th // Carina CAPPELLARI // SUI // 305 // -921 // New to top 10
Points available for final round are: 1st = 250, 2nd = 200, 3rd = 170, 4th = 150, 5th = 130, 6th = 111, 7th = 94, 8th = 82, 9th = 70, 10th = 60, etc…
What Happened Here Last Year
Nothing because there wasn’t a race here last year. So let’s go back a few more years to 2011...
Although small in stature, La Bresse at the time was a legitimate World Cup track thanks to it being full of technically challenging sections that kept riders thinking.
In the Elite Women’s race, we would see a young Manon Carpenter sitting in the hot seat for a long while until the creme of the crop started their decent. Atherton took the hot seat from Carpenter despite sliding out on one of the turns close to the finish line. Nevertheless, her time was still good. Atherton would watch on as Ragot would try to beat her time, but the Frenchwoman couldn’t do it thanks to a couple of mistakes higher up the track. Likewise, Jonnier fell to a similar fate but it was only Pugin and Moseley that would unseat Atherton, with Pugin eventually taking second, behind an on-form Moseley who took the top step.
In the Elite Men’s race, we would see Ben Cathro (you know, he’s the guy that does all those cool videos now), sitting in the hot seat after what was arguably one of his best World Cup results after starting the day off in 33rd place. It wasn't until Marc Beaumont crossed the line did the finishers start beating one another. The soon-to-announce-calling-it-quits Barel would knock Beaumont off the hot seat but it wasn’t long before he was knocked off himself. Next up was Minnaar who found an extra 3.4 seconds on track compared to Barel. Minnaar looked on as Atherton, Smith and Gwin tried to improve on his time, but they simply couldn’t. It wasn’t Gwin’s day - not this time, but history will say otherwise for the overall - and Minnaar was announced the winner.
2011 // Greg MINNAAR // RSA
2009 // Steve PEAT // GBR
2011 // Tracy MOSELEY // GBR
2009 // Sabrina JONNIER // FRA
The Weather Forecast
Watching It In Person
If you want to watch the racing action in person then there is a fee for this round. A day ticket will set you back €15 per adult, or a multi three-day ticket will set you back €30. Kids under 14 go free and there are no concessions. Sadly for those of you wishing to splash out and buy a VIP experience, there are none to buy.
Must Know, Must See, Must Do
The town of La Bresse is in the largely rural Vosges region of the ‘Grand Est’ in northeastern France. The Vosges region is named after the Vosges mountain range and consists of 17 districts and 507 towns with La Bresse being one of them. The land the region covered was once blanketed in vast swathes of woodland but as time went on people started to make the area their home, turning the plentiful woods into agricultural land, as well as mining areas for precious minerals in Saxon times. One of La Bresse’s sister towns of the Vosges region - Domrémy-la-Pucelle - is where Joan of Arc was born when the area was ruled under the Holy Roman Empire.
During its time, the area and its surroundings have seen a lot of bloodshed on its ground. In 58 BC Julius Caesar crushed the Germanic tribe under Ariovistus in nearby Alsace. Ariovistus and his tribe wanted to seek new ground in Gaul during the Gallic Wars but Caesar and his six legions were having none of it, and in fact, wanted a bit of Germania for themselves. In 1794 during the French Revolutionary Wars, a new Battle of Vosges took place - and actually in the shadow of the Vosges mountain range - between the Revolutionary Forces of France and the Allied Coalition (Prussia, Saxony, and Habsburg Austria). The French won the battle in the end but both forces were relatively stagnant about the whole thing. Down the line the French forces would eventually capitulate in the Franco Prussian War of 1870-1871, the northeastern area of Vosges area annexed to the German Empire.
A couple of decades later and Vosges would see horrific and seemingly never-ending fighting during the First World War. In the aftermath, most of the area was returned to France under the Treaty of Versailles. The area saw once again the pity of war, when at the end of 1944, during the Second World War, it saw fighting between Allied and German forces. That same year the British Special Air Service’s (SAS) ill-fated Operation Loyton took place where a troop of men were parachuted into the Vosges mountains. It would have been ok had it not been for the Germany army swarming the area in readiness for the Allied’s Third Army advance. The Germans raced to capture the SAS men and on orders from Hitler himself (he didn’t much like the plucky Brits and their annoying SAS so issued a ‘Commando Order’ which sanctioned the killing of any Allied commando without trial, even if they were in proper uniforms or if they attempted to surrender). Sadly in their attempt to retreat, 31 men of the original 91 SAS team were captured, interred in the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on French territory (which was in the Vosges mountains), and executed. Unfortunately, others who were caught up in the German Army’s fulfilment of Hitler’s orders, including over 200 local residents who would be sent to concentration camps, where less than half of them would survive.
Thankfully the region recovered in the post-war years, and given its lush green spaces in the late 20th century two large areas were given protected status; the Parc Naturel régional des Vosges du Nord and the Parc Naturel régional des Ballons des Vosges. The area is now a great location for leisure seekers from both France and neighbouring Germany.
There’s plenty to see and do while you’re in the area, including taking a look at the remains of a Roman fortified town in Grand. There’s an amphitheatre and a temple dedicated to Apollo. Given the area’s history, there are lots of forts to see, particularly ones that date to the latter half of the 19th century, including Bourlémont, Uxegney, and Bois l'Abbé. There are lots of museums too in La Bresse itself, including one dedicated to the French Resistance and their allies during the Second World War, as well as monuments and military cemeteries dotted around the area.
There’s a brewery museum in La Bresse which offers guided tours. There are several lakes to enjoy, as well as hikes up the mountain, plus La Bresse Bike Park itself. Food and drink wise you’ll be spoilt for choice in town as there are lots of traditional eateries as well as the modern fast food joints.
“All my money is on Pierron for the final victory of the season. The French pinner appears to have the best pace of 2018, plus the home soil motivation and the lack of pressure to take the overall, if his injuries are healed from his brutal MSA OTB, we should see his real potential. The fresh French soil and recent results are pushing me towards a French 1-2-3, Vergier following his adopted brother, Bruni, for an unforgettable season ender.
I'll admit being completely off the boil with my MSA winner, I thought Rachel had now become the underdog after Tahnée's recent form, but the devastating five-second blow dealt with apparent ease from Atherton shows that she is still the Queen. I think we will see Nicole back in 2nd, again with the home soil help, with Tahnée rounding out the podium."
Pinkbike's World Cup Predictionator
1 // Amaury PIERRON
2 // Loic BRUNI
3 // Loris VERGIER
1 // Rachel ATHERTON
2 // Myriam NICOLE
3 // Tahnée SEAGRAVE
The ScheduleTuesday 21 August
• 15:00-16:00 Downhill Course Walk by BroadcasterWednesday 22 August
• 08:30-11:00 // Downhill Course Inspection by UCI
• 11:00-12:00 // Downhill On Board Course Preview
• 13:00-14:00 // On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - Elite Teams
• 14:00-16:00 // On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - All RidersThursday 23 August
• 08:00-11:30 // Official Downhill Training - Group B
• 11:45-15:15 // Official Downhill Training - Group A
• 15:30-17:00 // Downhill Timed Training Session
• 17:00-17:45 // On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - Riders and TeamsFriday 24 August
• 08:00-09:45 // Official Downhill Training - Group B
• 10:00-11:45 // Official Downhill Training - Group A
• 12:15 // Seeding Run - Junior Women
• 12:30 // Qualifying Round - Junior Men
• 13:30 // Qualifying Round - Elite Women
• 14:00 // Qualifying Round - Elite Men
• Followed by // 30 minutes On Foot Downhill Course Inspection - Riders and TeamsSaturday 25 August
• 08:00-09:00 // Official Downhill Training - Junior Women, Junior Men, Elite Women
• 09:45 // Final - Junior Women
• 10:15 // Final - Junior Men
• 11:00-12:00 // Official Downhill Training - Elite Men
• 12:30 // Final - Elite Women
• 13:30 // Final - Elite MenNote: All times are local and subject to change by the UCI/event organiser.
After a couple of week’s break from World Cup racing, the world’s mountain bike media - including our very own crew - will soon be arriving in La Bresse, and ready to provide you with photos epics and results as they come in. We’ll also have WynTV and Inside The Tape from Ben Cathro.
For the Elite Women and Elite Men finals, you can watch the action on Red Bull TV on Saturday 25 August at 12:30 CEST (Elite Women coverage) and 14:00 CEST (Elite Men coverage).
Here’s a breakdown of what these times mean in these main locations (w = Elite Women’s coverage, m = Elite Men’s coverage):
• 03:30 (w) // 05:00 (m) // Saturday // Vancouver, Canada (PDT)
• 06:30 (w) // 08:00 (m) // Saturday // Washington DC, USA (EDT)
• 11:30 (w) // 13:00 (m) // Saturday // London, UK (BST)
• 20:30 (w) // 22:00 (m) // Saturday // Sydney, Australia (AEST)
• 22:30 (w) // 00:00 (m) // Saturday // Auckland, New Zealand (NZST)Note: These times are subject to change. Please check with your local provider.
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/ @natedh9 / @rossbellphoto