The 30th season of UCI DH is underway and what a race we had in Lourdes, France to kick things off!
Pre-race concerns about the weather in the foothills of the Pyrenees in March amounted to nothing as the sun shone from Thursday’s track walk through to Sunday’s podiums.
With dry conditions, ‘The Wall’ with its 66% gradient proved toothless for the best riders on the planet and despite the track being taped wide, there were very few riders doing anything but the main line. This called for incredible precision though and the short and intense track provided extremely tight racing.
DH World Cup Round 1, Lourdes, Junior Results
Sunday started with Canada’s Gracey Hemstreet taking the Junior Women’s category by six seconds from GB’s Phoebe Gale with 2021 World Champion and World Cup Champion Izabela Yankova in third. Hemstreet’s time would’ve been good enough for 6th place in Elite Women which was extremely impressive.
Similarly in the Junior Men, Jackson Goldstone won with a time that would’ve been good enough for 11th in Elite Men with Remy Meier- Smith in second and Jordan Williams in third. The kids are certainly alright!
In the Women’s race, there was no Rachel Atherton on the start list, and she later shared on Instagram that she’s just not ready to race yet. It’s no surprise. This race weekend highlighted just how committed you need to be if you want to be at the very top. GB National Champ KJ Sharp took a huge crash on the 15 metre road gap in seeding and was lucky to walk away with just a few bruises.
Pre-season favourites in the Women’s field Vali Hoell and Myriam Nicole traded blows early, with Nicole setting the fastest time in timed training on Friday, only for Hoell to hit back taking the win in seeding.
The race on Sunday truly started when one of the protected riders who crashed in seeding, Nina Hoffmann, posted a 3:33, eight seconds quicker than Mikayla Parton who she replaced in the hotseat but still 14 seconds slower than Vali’s fastest qualifier. Hoffmann’s time held until Mathilde Bernard, a five time French BMX champion but a relatively new face on the World Cup scene proved she can mix it with the big guns, going green with just six riders left. Marine Cabirou, still not fully recovered from a broken back isn’t letting it slow her down. She was four seconds up at the second split and six seconds up on Bernard by the finish. Next in the gate was last season’s most consistent finisher, Swiss National Champion Camille Balanche who put down a heater. Balanche went five seconds quicker, finishing on the same second as Hoell’s fastest qualifier.
Into the final three. Tahnee Seagrave, with the hottest bike and kit colour combination I’ve ever seen, went faster at the top but lost time in the lower sections. This was something we saw happening quite regularly in the Men’s race with riders having to choose between a stiffer bike set up which was beneficial in the big compressions at the top, or a softer set up which was advantageous in the turns and whoops at the bottom. Seagrave would cross the line in second with the two big guns to go.
Myriam Nicole had a huge crash in Sunday morning practice and it was doubtful if she would race, but coming away from the first race of the season with just points from qualifying would hand Hoell a huge advantage and so into the start gate she went. As ever with Nicole it was a fully committed run, going through the second split sideways but two seconds up. How she held that I’ll never know and there was another mistake further down but she crossed the line in second.
Hoell’s run was nowhere near as eventful and she exchanged the lead with Balanche at every split before losing time in the final sector, crossing the line in fourth. It finished very tight at the top with all three riders on the same second.
Lourdes Downhill World Cup Women’s Results
1st. Camille Balanche: 3:19.983
2nd. Myriam Nicole: 3:20.607
3rd. Tahnee Seagrave: 3:20.980
4th. Vali Hoell: 3:21.657
5th. Marine Cabirou: 3:25.620
Into the Men’s race and the first time of note was set by 2018 Junior Men’s World Champion Kade Edwards. His 2:54 was “out of control all the way down” and just five seconds off Bruni’s fastest qualifier. Greg Minnaar crossed the line just over a second back and when Angel Suarez-Alonso followed the GOAT down and went into 2nd with a solid run, it was clear Kade’s time was solid.
It held for nearly 20 riders and it wasn’t until Dakotah Norton crossed the line that he had to give up his place in the hot seat and the race truly got underway. Norton didn’t have long in the hot seat. Matt Walker had put 1.4 seconds into everyone by sector two but that advantage had halved by the end. Walker has such a great style and is so composed on the bike that you don’t think he’s going to crash but he was pushing. 11 riders left. Laurie Greenland appeared to gap one section of the wall on a wild run, he nearly lost the front at one stage too but went into the lead and then the man he replaced on the Santa Cruz Syndicate, Luca Shaw went 1.4 seconds up by the second split and held that advantage all the way to the bottom. Reece Wilson nearly matched Shaw’s top section jumping far right as he exited the wall but was a second off by the end. Danny Hart had a brilliant lower section and went into second. By this stage three of the top top were British, but with five of the top six qualifiers, here come the French.
Loris Vergier was attacking hard and was green all the way until he lost the back wheel, sliding out speedway style in a right hander. Somehow, despite coming to a halt he only lost three seconds, crossing the line in 8th. French National Champion Benoit Coulanges had been bullying his way down the track all weekend and some ridiculous riding saw him go into the lead by nearly a second. It was also the first sub 2:50 run of the day and it was a run that deserved to win it, but was it enough?
Thibaut Daprela had a massive crash in the woods clipping a tree with his shoulder at full speed, leaving just Amaury Pierron, Finn Iles and Loic Bruni at the top. Pierron, the pre-race favourite unclipped before the final drop in qualifying with his right foot hitting the ground hard. It didn’t seem to affect him though, up by over a second at split three he then made a mistake but crossed the line with a 2:47.7, fastest by 1.5 seconds. After an injury hit couple of year’s, Pierron’s back!
That left just the two Specialized Gravity riders. Finn Iles is looking to step out of his team mates’ shadow this season and a solid run put him into second.
Bruni, who’s never won a World Cup or World Championships race in France, loves the pressure and loves being the last man down the hill. He was green all the way before crashing out here in 2016. He was pushing hard this time around too and the back wheel memorably kicked up at one stage, nosing him into the next section. Bruni went faster than his seeding run but just didn’t have enough, finishing third.
Lourdes Downhill World Cup Men’s Results
1st. Amaury Pierron: 2:47.711
2nd. Finn Iles: 2:48.558
3rd. Loic Bruni: 2:48.797
4th. Benoit Coulanges: 2:49.177
5th. Luca Shaw: 2:50.142
At the moment everything points to this season being a shootout between Amaury and Loic, and if we have a repeat of the 2019 season where the title went down to the wire, we’re in for a treat. The battle continues in Fort William on the weekend of 21st and 22nd of May.
Missed It? Watch Lourdes DH World Cup Here
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