After what feels like years it is finally time for the downhill World Cup season to begin as riders head to Lenzerheide for the opening round. With a flat-out course to kick things off, we are in for an incredible spectacle as riders will look to maximise the first weekend back between the tape. With the new semi-finals format and no timed training, it will be a very different race for riders, but it should be a great one to watch.
Before the racing begins we have given our best shot at predicting who we think could be the ones to watch this weekend.
Who Has Proven Form?
With the late season start it feels like many riders have decided to extend their off-season and have avoided getting between the tape in anticipation for the World Cup opener. While this means we could have some surprises this weekend it is hard to know where everyone is ahead of the race.
Vali Höll has been one of the busier riders and is coming off another Austrian national champs win and took 10th at the Maydena Enduro World Cup. British racer Jordan Williams has been another busy rider as he prepares to enter his first year of Elite racing. Jordan may be young, but his Junior race times often challenged the top Elite racers so he could be a real threat for the win. Going off his pre-season races, this becomes more evident as he picked up the win during the first British national race while also topping qualifying at the Lourdes test event.
While we are on the test event in finals it was another first-year Elite rider, Gracey Hemstreet, who bested the Elite Women's field by over three seconds to take the win. While this was the classic 'not a race' event and only six women turned up Gracey did manage to beat Nina Hoffmann which will certainly be a big confidence boost for her initial Elite race. In the Elite Men's race, we saw Thibaut Daprela come out on top, the French rider has been at the sharp end since he made the transition to Elites in 2020 and will be wanting 2023 to finally be his year where he can take the overall after coming very close before.
The second round of the British national series at Fort William showed that the Santa Cruz team is looking strong in 2023 as Nina Hoffmann and Laurie Greenland came out fighting to take both Elite wins. With a stacked field of top World Cup riders, this is one of our best examples of what to expect this weekend. If you want to take a look at the full results you can check them out here
Who Could Win the Women's Racing?
Our top pick for the Women's race this weekend is Vali Höll. Vali is coming into the 2023 season looking very strong after some great performances in smaller races and at the opening round of the EDR World Cup. Lenzerheide has always been a good venue for Vali as she won both Junior races here (including the 2018 World Champs) and never finished outside the top five in Elites. With past top performances and her current speed, it's tough to best against Vali Höll.
The next pick for the win or a top result in Lenzerheide would be Camille Balanche. Coming into 2023 as the 2022 series champion she will be wanting to continue her great success and move on from her collar bone injury
that almost ended her season. Looking at previous Lenzerheide races Camille is another rider who goes well here with no results apart from the 2018 World Champs outside the top five. Last year she crossed the line just over four seconds back from Myriam Nicole who is one of the top performers here alongside Rachel Atherton.
Nina Hoffmann is our final prediction for a good result at Lenzerheide as following some great pre-season results she is looking strong and ready to take on the 2023 season. Already this year she has picked up three wins at the second British National race and the first two iXS Cup rounds. Nina also took second place at the Australian national champs race at Thredbo in February.
Who Could Win the Men's Racing?
First up is Laurie Greenland who has had a quieter start to the year in terms of racing but has already picked up a fifth place at the Lourdes test event and won the British national race at Fort William. Laurie has always been one of the fastest riders on the World Cup circuit but has yet to hold the consistency needed to take the overall title. We think he will be one to watch this year and coming off some great results in the off-season could be a real podium threat this weekend on the new Santa Cruz prototype.
Loic Bruni is another rider in our picks for the win this weekend as he comes off a third place at the test event and a win in the downhill at Crankworx Rotorua. Loic is one of the riders who has historically always done well when the World Cup comes to Switzerland having been inside the top three during four of the six races at Lenzerheide. Loic's top results here include a win at the World Champs in 2018.
The third and final choice for the Elite Men's racing is Amaury Pierron who is coming off being the 2022 overall series winner after a dramatic 2022 season. Amaury laid down an incredible run in Lenzerheide last year on his way to the win and joined Greg Minnaar as the only Elite male riders to win here more than once. The past three times we have been to Lenzerheide Amaury has won twice and come fourth so it is impossible to write him off this weekend. We have included his winning run from last year below as it almost matches his legendary run from the 2019 Les Gets DH World Cup
While we have made our main predictions for potential winners above there were other riders who we should mention as potential top performers this weekend.
It's so amazing to see Rachel Atherton heading back to racing and after she took 6th place here last year after a last-minute decision we are looking forward to seeing what she has in store year.
Gracey Hemstreet was one of the Junior Women to beat last year and with a move up to Elite, she will have to compete with the World's best in 2023. A win at the Lourdes test event is a good sign she is ready for the challenge and we can't wait to see what she can do in finals.
Last year's Junior World Champ Jordan Williams has proven he can keep up with the top Elite riders in the build-up to the World Cup season and we will be watching closely to see how he does when the pressure is on.
You can never ignore Greg Minnaar when there's racing at Lenzerheide.
Who do you think can win this weekend?
We have included some of the top Juniors from 2022 moving up to Elites despite them not ranking inside the top 20.