The action was thick and fast at the opening round of the 2019 season. The combination of tight track, changing weather conditions and a few crashes throughout the weekend have shaped the points chase with some big names leaving Slovenia well outside of the Top 10. Here is the full recap.
The 2019 Downhill World Cup season kicked off with a return Maribor, Slovenia which was first on the circuit in 20 years ago. Despite not being on the circuit for 9 years it is a favorite of many of the riders.
At 1.9km long with a 420m drop in elevation, it is by no means the gnarliest on paper but is physically demanding. Without much pedaling the course twists and turns through the forest with off cambers, massive compressions, steep rooty sections, a gnarly rock garden and plenty of gaps to hop. Ridden similarly to a BMX or pump track good flow and sticking all the gaps were key to running a good time. The track is fast and rad.
Take a closer look at the Maribor track via a GoPro lap with Commencal’s Thibaut Daprela. Listen to the abuse the bike takes on the many huge compressions and pay attention around the 55-second mark where he rails a turn real hard almost shooting off the track. Incidentally, Thibault won the Junior category and was within 7 seconds of the Elite men’s winning time which would have placed him in a fairly decent 30th position.
The rain started to fall at the start of quali’s which made conditions difficult to read. The riders had only ridden the track in the dry and the conditions turned from a few slick glassy like sections through to as a wet wash. In the Women’s Race Australian Tracey Hannah (Polygon) put one over her rivals to take the 50 points on offer. Rachel Atherton (Atherton Bikes) and Tahnee Seagrave rounded out the top 3. By the time the Men started it was pretty wet in the open pieces and the rain continued to soak through the trees onto the whole track. Canadian Mark Wallace (Canyon) put down a brilliant lap to take the win ahead of Gwin (Intense) and Finn Iles (Specialized). Further down the field, there were a lot of upsets caused by the slick conditions which saw many new names sneaking into the Top 30 and more than a few protagonists finishing well down the results sheet.
The skies cleared for Sunday’s race day and the track dried from a peanut butter slick to a tacky and very attackable surface.
In the Elite Women’s race, long time rivals Tahnee Seagrave (Transition Bikes) and Rachel Atherton (Atherton Bikes) duked it out through all the split times in what was an exciting show. The defending World Cup champ finished some 0.855 seconds down on Tahnee. Fastest qualifier Tracey Hannah (Polygon) put in a solid performance to place 3rd. Marine Cabirou (Scott) and Monika Hrastnik (Commencal) rounded out the podium of 5 which were all within 4.3seconds of one another.
In the Elite Men’s race eventual 5th place finisher Matt Walker (Saracen) put in a fine run early on and sat in the hot seat for an extended period. A superbly aggressive and charging run by Charlie Harrison (Trek Factory Racing) earned him a career-best 4th place. Troy Brosnan (Canyon) put in a smooth, relatively clean run and stayed very low on the jumps to take 3rd place. Danny Hart (Saracen) pushed hard and put it all together in his race run which put him into the hot seat for ages. His classic style shone through yet he seemed to be calmer and controlled to complete a run with very few mistakes. A classy manual midway through that treacherous rock garden — on the gnarly middle line — was just ridiculously cool. Danny’s time would only be bested by the precise and deadly powerful Loic Bruni (Specialized Gravity Racing). Loic was fastest in the rocks, stayed low everywhere and muscled out the compressions to take the win by almost half a second.
Seeing industry giants like Cannondale, Scott and Specialized with new race bikes for their teams bodes well for the sport and shows that DH racing is very alive with big budgets floating around. It truly is the Formula 1 of mountain bike racing.
Check out the new Cannondale Factory Racing downhill bike which uses two separate rear shocks
Quite a few riders are already mixing the wheel sizes up running a 27.5″ rear with a 29″ on the front. This is highly likely more than just a fad as the first two places in the Men’s race were on this new ‘297’ wheel combination. The mixed wheel sizing has a lot of advantages and whilst it won’t suit all riders and all tracks, neither does the traditional approach. What does this mean? – well, you should anticipate more Trail, Enduro and DH bikes designed to accommodate the split wheel size popping up.
With the winding nature of this track a key focus area for the riders was brake control. Nailing the setup for the turns and knowing when to fully release the brakes to maximize exit speed was absolutely crucial. Those that got it right were visibly smoother and faster.
The Syndicate are using Shimano’s new XTR brakes as opposed to the Saint’s, no doubt testament to their combination of power and modulation. We also can see a lot of riders are running 220mm brake rotors front and rear to deal with the heating and consistency in performance.
Whilst the strength and weight gains carbon fiber frames offer are unbeatable, Loic Bruni has stated he prefers the feel of the alloy framed downhill bike. Word is that Specialized will not be releasing their new DH bike in a carbon fiber version.
The good, the bad and the ugly
THE GOOD. The top 5 in the Women’s race were separated by a mere 4.3seconds which bodes for an exciting season. Danny Hart’s manual mid-way through that super gnarly rock garden was just too good for words. It’s so good to see the two time World Champ riding on the edge and staying on his bike when it counts.
THE BAD. Big name rad riders like Kade Edwards, Wyn Masters, Phil Atwill, Greg Williamson, Jackson Frew, Thomas Estaque, Florent Payet, Bruce Klein, Magnus Manson are amongst the list that never made the final. Perhaps the UCI should relook at the rules and format so that this does not become a trend as it surely does detract from the Final show.
THE UGLY. In his 20 year career Greg Minnaar has never not qualified for finals. Seeing him have a nightmare qualifying run on a sloppy, glassy track was ugly for fans, his team and everyone involved. Greg was visibly upset. This sport has no respect for royalty and showed just how brutal it can be. Ft Bill will be an interesting race for SA fans with a whole lot of retribution on the cards for the G.O.A.T