Maribor DH World Cup Report

Photos and Words: Colin Meagher

Maribor, Slovenia’s, gravity fueled World Cup saw the weather play a significant role. The first day of downhill training was held under dry conditions, lulling riders into a false sense of security. Then came a steady—and at times heavy—rain during qualifying that totally degraded the track into one seemingly endless rut.

Ben Reid had a smashing qualifying run, coming across the line aboard his new Norco whip in a solid 3:29.61-good enough for eighth in qualifying.

Ben Reid had a smashing qualifying run, coming across the line aboard his new Norco whip in a solid 3:29.61-good enough for eighth in qualifying.

The rain held off for the finals, but this made things even worse as the fine clay mud began to stick to the bikes and riders, making it increasingly difficult to pedal.

Qualifying:

A total of 241 riders toed the line in today's qualifying; junionr racer Leopold Kollner of Austria learned the hard way how difficult it is to qualify in a field like this, coming across the line over a minute and a half back from Hill. Welcome to the big leagues...

A total of 241 riders toed the line in today's qualifying; junionr racer Leopold Kollner of Austria learned the hard way how difficult it is to qualify in a field like this, coming across the line over a minute and a half back from Hill. Welcome to the big leagues...

The fair weather of training was all but forgotten when racers awoke on Saturday morning in Maribor for qualifying with steady rain beating on the tents in the pits. With training for two hundred and seventy seven racers (241 men, 36 women) running from 8 am until 11:30 am, that meant it was time to see exactly how much havoc those five hundred and fifty four sets of mud spikes were going to wreak on the track. Bomb holes sprouted like mushrooms, and deep ruts developed all along the course as training got down to brass tacks. And at half past noon, the first big dance of the season got under way with Sabrina Jonnier of Rocky Mountain/Maxxis launching herself down the track.

Cedric Gracia with a high start number-187-was caught in traffic and just barely failed to qualify. Look to see CG rectify that at the next round of the World Cup in Fort Williams.

Cedric Gracia with a high start number-187-was caught in traffic and just barely failed to qualify. Look to see CG rectify that at the next round of the World Cup in Fort Williams.

At days end it was a new face on top of the women’s qualifying list: Myriam Nicole of the Commencal Super Team, while for the men it was the one and only Sam Hill in the pole position, followed closely by teammate Brendan Fairclough.

Sam Hill: In the wet he is virtually unbeatable, even if he is only 3 months out from ACL reconstructive surgery for that minor "tweak" he did to his knee while training last winter.

Sam Hill: In the wet he is nearly unbeatable, even if he is only 3 months out from ACL reconstructive surgery.

“I was immensely satisfied with my time,” stated Fairclough. “To be honest, I was really glad to be able to see straight. I knocked my head something fierce in training yesterday and couldn’t really see straight for about five hours. But today I could see just fine.”

Other riders were not so satisfied, with vision being the number one complaint; goggle tear-offs littered the track anywhere that riders could get a muddy paw off the bars long enough to rip one off.

Tear offs on a course like this in conditions like this are the difference between qualifying and going home.

Tear offs on a course like this in conditions like this are the difference between qualifying and going home.

“I couldn’t see a thing,” confessed Justin Leov. “I had so much mud on my goggles at times that it was like biking by Braille. I kept it pretty conservative up there”

The annual hurricane that destroys the race expo somehow missed Maribor, but not by much; it still dumped nearly 2 inches of rain in the 24 hours before the final. The Yeti tent miraculously did not collapse under the weight of this bathtub sized pool of water on the awning roof. It took six people to push the bubble out and drain the roof.

The annual hurricane that destroys the race expo somehow missed Maribor, but not by much; it still dumped nearly 2 inches of rain in the 24 hours before the final. The Yeti tent miraculously did not collapse under the weight of this bathtub sized pool of water on the awning roof. It took six people to push the bubble out and drain the roof.

Finals:

Conditions were so muddy that most teams, regardless of sponsor, opted to run the Maxxis WetScream.

Conditions were so muddy that most teams, regardless of sponsor, opted to run the Maxxis WetScream.

The weather continued to toy with the eighty men and twenty women that made the selection for the finals. The threat of continued rain held off, but now it was high winds forcing the closure of the gondola that ferried riders to the mountaintop. Instead, riders were forced to shuttle up, limiting training to a single run. Even worse, the lack of rain, while a boon for spectators, meant that the clay infused soil was becoming incredibly greasy and sticky. To make matters more challenging, the course had degraded to what amounted to one long rut, liberally laced with roots.

A minor case of whiplash from qualifying didn't help Tracy Moseley all that much, but as she put it, "Not a great start to my season, that's for sure. But I'm not injured and Fort William's just around the corner; I can't wait for that."

A minor case of whiplash from qualifying didn't help Tracy Moseley all that much, but as she put it, "Not a great start to my season, that's for sure. But I'm not injured and Fort William's just around the corner; I can't wait for that."

“It was one of the worst courses I’ve raced on in terms of conditions,” asserted men’s race winner, Greg Minnaar, “the ruts were that deep. It was pretty tough. And the roots were so gnarly!”

"Ruts are good if you can stay in them. But if you get out of position, they're not your friend at all.", said Greg Minnaar. Minnar railing a rut that was definitely his friend in the final.

"Ruts are good if you can stay in them. But if you get out of position, they're not your friend at all.", said Greg Minnaar. Minnar railing a rut that was definitely his friend in the final.

On the ladies side, it looked to be a French woman’s race to win, as the top four qualifying spots were all French: Myriam Nicole, Floriane Pugin, Celine Gros, and Sabrina Jonnier. But it was a Brit’s for the taking, with Rachel Atherton taking it.

Broken hand and all, Rachel Atherton roared into the rock garden at full gas and kept the throttles wide open all the way down to the top step of the podium.

Broken hand and all, Rachel Atherton roared into the rock garden at full gas and kept the throttles wide open all the way down to the top step of the podium.

Atherton was not even on the radar for the win, as it had been a year off from racing and with a recently broken hand, her qualifying run saw her 32 .75 seconds back from the top qualifying time the day prior. But somehow the Animal Commencal rider put together a smasher, punching the clock a full 9.73 seconds ahead of Jonnier. An amazing run for Rachel, and proof positive that she’s back.

For the men, it was Kona’s Joe Smith taking a good grip on the hot seat, qualifying twenty-seventh, but sitting atop the leader board until Aaron Gwin unceremoniously kicked him off, with a time just under a second and a half faster.

After that, the times kept coming down, with

Top step of the podium for Minnaar and a fresh World Cup overall leader's jersey.

Top step of the podium for Minnaar and a fresh World Cup overall leader's jersey.

storming to a 3:23.42 with only the Monster/Specialized duo of Sam Hill and Brendan Fairclough left to race. Fairclough had a less than savage run going, coming almost to a full stop in a root line up top, but then putting it all together on the lower section for a podium step (third) but not fast enough to uproot Minnaar from the hot seat.

The bobsled run below the road was flat out treacherous. Boris Tetalaff, the Austrian National Champ gets a little loose coming 'round one of corners at speed.

The bobsled run below the road was flat out treacherous. Boris Tetalaff, the Austrian National Champ gets a little loose coming 'round one of corners at speed.

All eyes went to Hill on the monitors, the man typically favored in adverse conditions like this. Hill hit the course fast, and conditions were loose, to say the least. But Hill was having a rough go of it—at one point nearly going off course, and as a result, nearly off the podium, finishing a mere .43 seconds faster than MS-Evil rider Steve Smith (who finished sixth on the day).

Sam Hill had a loose ride, getting bucked around on the bottom half of the track, but still hung on for fifth place on the day.

Sam Hill had a loose ride, getting bucked around on the bottom half of the track, but still hung on for fifth place on the day.

Sweet shower for Rachel Atherton indeed. A year off of racing is now firmly in the rear view mirror.

Sweet shower for Rachel Atherton indeed. A year off of racing is now firmly in the rear view mirror.

For the first time, Brendan Fairclough takes a place above Sam Hill on the podium, seizing third place on the day. "That was wild as f--k. But I stayed on my bike which was better than some people. The ruts were so bad... Never seen anything like that before."

For the first time, Brendan Fairclough takes a place above Sam Hill on the podium, seizing third place on the day.

44.55 lbs is what the scale on Minnaar's bike says after the race, but it read 36.3 before the race; that translates to 8.25 lbs of mud caking that brand new Carbon V-10. Gee Atherton's had 12 lbs of muck on it, according to the scale.

44.55 lbs is what the scale on Minnaar's bike says after the race, but it read 36.3 before the race; that translates to 8.25 lbs of mud caking that brand new Carbon V-10. Gee Atherton's had 12 lbs of muck on it, according to the scale.

Top American riders for the men were Aaron Gwin (7), Luke Strobel (22), Curtis Keene (57), Duncan Riffle (63), and Kyle Strait (70).

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