The World Cup circus rolled into a dry and dusty Andorra for round 4 of the 2019 DH series. A small principality situated on the border of Spain and France, Andorra is on the east side of the menacing Pyrenees mountains and is an idyllic setting for a bike race. This extremely difficult track traditionally opens up the field producing big time gaps between the riders and puts on an exhilarating show for spectators.
The World Cup track in Andorra is by all accounts the toughest on the 2019 series. At 2,5km long with a 640m drop in altitude it has all the attributes needed to keep the world’s best on their toes – or should that be heels. The first 30 seconds is a pretty flat woods section, after which the speed picks up and riders have to deal with off cambers, roots and exposed bedrock. The final 2 minutes of the track contains the steepest sections ever raced in a World Cup downhill – the gradient is 85% at times. This bottom section of the track is so steep that in order to avoid excess erosion and to preserve the track for years to come, it is only opened up for racing. The track has many setup line choices, dappled light (on sunny days), big gaps and massive braking holes. From a rider point of view, the fundamentals of a good run down Andorra include being precise with line choice, preserving energy for the final two minutes which are torturous and braking accuracy. The bike needs the correct suspension setup to deal with the gradient, brakes which do not overheat and/or fade towards the bottom and a good
Video: Onboard with Greg Minnaar
In the ELITE WOMEN’S RACE series leader Tracey Hannah executed a powerful run opening a lot of time between her and the then hot-seat occupant. However, within sight of the finish line, Tracey lost traction on the rear and went down in a left-hand turn. With two riders still to come Rachel Atherton set off from the start gate and put in a fast top section. A smooth, relaxed and somewhat precise ride from Atherton saw her keep pace with Hannah’s time all the way down the blown up, dust bowl of a track. Rachel crossed the finish line and moved into the hot-seat and would stay there till the end of the day. Next up was Marine Cabirou who was attacking the track in her usual aggressive style all the way down. In touch with Atherton at the mid-way point, she then lost time in the last steep section towards the end. Cabirou crossed the finish 2.4secs down on Atherton, for 2nd place. A wild ride from fastest qualifier Nina Hoffmann saw her well in touch at halfway but a crash took her out of contention.
- Rachel ATHERTON (GBR) 5:00.622
- Marine CABIROU (FRA) +2.497
- Tracey HANNAH (AUS) +7.131
- Emilie SIEGENTHALER (SUI) +12.859
- Eleonora FARINA (ITA) +15.098
In the ELITE MEN’S RACE, one time World Cup winner Remi Thirion put in a brilliant run early on to take the hot-seat. Thirion was particularly fast on the bottom half of the track, in the steeps, and rider after rider couldn’t match his performance. Eventually, 7th placed qualifier Brook Macdonald running a new 29er front and 27.5 rear set-up on his Mondraker, put in a charge and beat Thirion’s time. Last year’s winner Loris Vergier was absolutely flying on track, making up time everywhere to go a full 5 seconds faster than Macdonald. Troy Brosnan had a good go and was up on Vergier’s time at the first split, but lost a little further down the hill. Nonetheless, Brosnan put in a clean and brilliant run, finishing just 1.2secs slower than Vergier and once again would end the day in 3rd – he hasn’t been outside the top three all year. Being the last man down the hill the all pressure was on Loïc Bruni, but the top qualifier and winner of two World Cups already in 2019, matched Vergier’s speed and added finesse, slicing his way through the roughest sections of the track. Bruni perhaps took fewer risks in the steepest sections, but he’d made up time in the earlier parts of the run and crossed the finish line to take the win. Bruni is the first male repeat winner on this track and this is his third win of the season.
- Loic BRUNI (FRA) 4:11.055
- Loris VERGIER (FRA) +0.423
- Troy BROSNAN (AUS) +1.202
- Amaury PIERRON (FRA) +2.948
- Danny HART (GBR) +5.595
- Brook MACDONALD (NZL) +6.866
- David TRUMMER (AUT) +6.979
- Remi THIRION (FRA) +7.989
- Laurie GREENLAND (GBR) +8.383
- Jack MOIR (AUS) +9.260
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
THE GOOD: The many new names and young talent creeping into the top levels of the Women’s and Men’s field, (including privateer riders!) is opening up the racing and challenging the longtime protagonists. Rachel Atherton earning her 74th World Cup podium – which is an all-time record in women’s mountain biking – is simply incredible. Then Bruni – with 3 wins in 4 races Bruni is good, very good. Is he the new Gwin? Time will tell.
THE BAD: The track. Its pure badass. The gradient is like no other and as a result, in many
THE UGLY: Hannah stacking it in finals a few turns from the finish which cost her 2nd place and perhaps even the win. Whether it was rider
- The top 10 in the men’s race had four 29er’s, four 29/27,5 combo bikes and two 27,5er’s.
- Danny Hart’s team (Madison Saracen) used a brake arm in order to isolate the brake forces from the rear suspension and reduce unwanted ‘brake jack’. Was this just a temporary fix for the Andorran track or will the team retain the tech as the series moves on…?
- On one of the most physically challenging tracks – from an upper body point of view – it’s quite incredible how conditioned the top 20% of the field
are. They are able to hold their aggressive race posture and attack all the way to the finish line as opposed to the rest of the field who are visibly fatigued and move their posture to a ‘preservation’ or ‘rest position’ for the final two minutes. The top riders are simply incredible athletes.
- Giant making the move to 29er DH bikes! A little late to the party indeed but a good move.
- All this talk about Greg Minnaar and his ‘puzzling’ on setup is bull. The guy is not a puzzler – he is actually a wizard of bike setup and has an uncanny intuition on the subject. For this round in Andorra, he identified that he needed to shift his weight distribution/bias to improve front wheel traction. His solution? – new dropouts and a new rear link to change the chainstay length and correct the travel. That’s not puzzling – that’s a deep understanding of mountain bikes right there.
OVERALL RANKINGS after round 4
- Tracey HANNAH (AUS) – 790 points
- Rachel ATHERTON (GBR) – 730
- Marine Cabirou (FRA) – 640
- Nina HOFFMANN (GER) – 585
- Veronika WIDMANN (ITA) – 407
- Loic BRUNI (FRA) – 765 points
- Troy BROSNAN (AUS) – 700
- Amaury PIERRON (FRA) – 605
- Danny HART (GBR) – 565
- Loris VERGIER (FRA) – 482
- Greg MINNAAR (RSA) – 396
- Brook MACDONALD (NZL) – 343
- Mark WALLACE (CAN) – 322
- Matt WALKER (GBR) – 279
- Aaron GWIN (USA) – 273
NEXT UP: Round 5, Les Gets, France 11 – 13 July
With thanks Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull, UCI and Shimano SA / Coolheat.