By: Colin Meagher
After the mid-season break for various national championships, World Cup racing is back in the spotlight with a return to Champery, Switzerland for the fourth DH and XC races of the season, as well as a bit of a shake out for the 2011 World Champs.
Champery rocked the Downhill set in 2007 by showcasing a track that raised the bar for technical and nasty like no other track in the modern era had before. It was steep, descending 1932 feet in just under a mile, laced with slippery roots and committed fall line moves. On top of that, it vomited rain during the finals. And what gravity fan can forget Sam Hill's amazing, and muddy third-place finish?
For XC, the race in '07 saw Willow Koerber take third behind Ren of China on a track that featured a brutal climb and loads of fun singletrack. The course was tweaked to be more technical last year, and appears to be the same this year. And Ren is rumored to be making a return to World Cup racing.
Since this is a double event (XC and DH, but no 4X), the schedule has the DH final set for Saturday and the XC race on Sunday.
DH practice and qualifying:
Day One's DH practice found a dry, dusty track that was a much 'softer' version of the '07 track, with rounded berms in what had once been switchbacks hacked out of the hillside, quite a few more jumps and a distinct lack of wheel wrecking rocks. But it's still steep as hell, and, with large amounts of clay in the soil, a nightmare in the wet. And the forecast for Friday's qualifying race was rain.
Sure enough, a thunderstorm rolled in immediately following Thursday's practice and proceeded to dump buckets of rain on the track. More rain as well as thick fog was the flavor for the morning, as racers clawed their way down the track in rain suits during pre-qualifying practice.
About an hour before the women’s run, the rain let up. Unfortunately, that meant that the clay started to get sticky. Bikes were coming down the track with riders doing whatever they could to maintain momentum in the thick goo. Peanut butter is one thing, but watching the fastest ladies in the world imitating Fred Flintstone in an effort to get down all but the steepest sections of the track was painful. Nicole Myriam took the top spot, with Sabrina Jonnier in second, then Emmeline Ragot, Manon Carpenter, and Tracy Moseley. There was nearly a 32 second spread from first to fifth. Moseley even passed Floriane Pugin somewhere in the middle of the track. Absolutely insane!
For the men, the rain came back, and not just a drizzle, but rather a full-on imitation of the 2007 epic. A number of top riders were well off the pace: Greg Minnaar was back 14.53 seconds, Mick Hannah crossed the line back in thirty-fourth, Steve Smith came home in fifty first, and Josh Bryceland failed to qualify at all. However, Sam Blenkinsop owned the day, coming home in 4:10.36, followed by Damien Spagnolo, Gee Atherton, Brendan Fairclough, and—with a ride of his life—Wyn Masters (just edging out Peaty).
Tomorrow's forecast for the finals supposedly offers no rain, but just the same, I'm bringing an umbrella to finals.