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COMEBACK CENTRAL IN VAL DI SOLE AS SEAGRAVE AND PIERRON REPEAT DOWNHILL WINS OF 2018

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COMEBACK CENTRAL IN VAL DI SOLE AS SEAGRAVE AND PIERRON REPEAT DOWNHILL WINS OF 2018

4 weeks ago

Tahnée Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV FMD) celebrated her 29th birthday in the finest possible style - by taking her first UCI World Cup Downhill win in three years on Val di Sole’s notorious Black Snake track. Also rolling back the years and blowing everyone else away was 2018 champion Amaury Pierron (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction) on his to the course for the first time since breaking his back. 

DELIGHT FOR SEAGRAVE ONCE AGAIN IN VAL DI SOLE

A 2.1km long with 555m of drop “physical and gnarly” was how Josh Carlson described Val di Sole’s notorious Black Snake track ahead of finals. As the sun stayed hidden and clouds came over “treacherous” was another that could be added to the mix.

Due to an injury sustained this morning, the fastest of the women’s semi-finalists Jess Blewitt (Cube Factory Racing), was unable to take her place as the last rider out of the gate.

With a few drops of rain falling on the course, Valentina Roa Sánchez (Transition Factory Racing) was therefore the first of eleven. The Colombian national champion was riding her first final as an elite woman on arguably the most difficult course on the circuit.

Sánchez carried good speed, picked good lines through the trees, and rode steady to set a solid time of 4’46.7 - five seconds quicker than she managed the day before.

French rider Lisa Bouladou showed how easy it was for the course to trip a rider up, losing it in the early section and riding steady to the finish.

Monika Hrastnik (Dorval AM Commencal) took a deep breath and charged towards a serious time. The Slovenian was quickest at the top and only got quicker as she descended. By the fourth split she was 13 seconds up and had added one more to it by the line to take her place in the hotseat.

Phoebe Gale (Canyon Collective) showed no fear and only struggled physically towards the bottom, losing momentum over the biggest rocks on what was otherwise a clean run. Arms straining, she sprinted to the finish and into provisional second place.

The next rider to hit the ground was Lisa Baumann (Commencal Les Orres.) Baumann fell twice in the second sector and was unable to regain contact with the fastest times of the early riders.

Nina Hoffmann (Santa Cruz Syndicate) has had a difficult start to the season and came into the Val di Sole final with low expectations. She executed a solid but not spectacular ride to produce her best result of the year since Fort William.

Despite struggling to find her flow in the qualifying rounds, Tahnée Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV FMD) wasn’t in Val di Sole just to make up the numbers. She attacked the top part of the course with an intent that had been missing on Friday. Two seconds in hand over Hrastnik, fatigue seemed to catch up with the Brit a bit, as she lost a sliver of time in the third and fourth sectors. Nonetheless she kept it relaxed and steady, riding her own race all the way to the finish to comfortably claim the hotseat.

Second in Leogang, Anna Newkirk (Beyond Racing) wanted to prove it was no fluke but had a hard time on the attritional parts of the track, dropping several seconds to Seagrave in every sector. Fearless to the finish, she could manage no better than 6th place provisionally and shook her head in disappointment.

As the fog rolled over the top of the hill, Marine Cabirou (Scott Downhill Factory) hit the track. She wasn’t in touch with Seagrave at the top of the course but got closer further down. By split three she was enjoying her run, had built a platform, and was less than one second down at the 4th check. On the gas to the line, Cabirou missed out on top spot by just 0.3 seconds.

Time for rainbows in the fog, Valentina Höll (YT Mob) was just 0.5 seconds off the lead at the first check. Looking good until she wasn’t, a mistake on the rocks caused a slip that sent her toppling heavily to her right. Mercifully uninjured, Höll regained her composure but even on the downhill was always facing an uphill task to take back 8 seconds. An impressive mid-section put her within reach of the podium, pulling back seconds to leave her in 4th at the final check. With a couple of drops to go, she sprinted for the line into 4th.

After two great rides in qualifying Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction) was riding with fire. At the first split she was where she needed to be - 3rd, just 0.5 seconds off Seagrave’s super-fast start. Nicole attacked the lower half of the visibly deteriorating track but had lost a second to Seagrave at the second check. At the Oakley rock garden, she picked good lines and charged into sector three, but was flagging - at the third check she had slipped to provisional 4th place. Four seconds was too much to make up.

Tahnée Seagrave could barely believe it. She leapt out of the hotseat - back on top of the podium for the first time since Les Gets in 2021.

I didn’t think it was possible today,” she said. “I was so far behind yesterday. I had so much work to do and I haven’t turned something like that around in a long time. I think today we saw Tahnée who used to race like this. I’m stoked.”


The result puts her into second place in the
UCI Downhill Women’s Elite World Cup standings, 229 points behind Valentina Höll. Marine Cabirou is in third place, just nine points behind Seagrave.

PIERRON PUTS A DIFFICULT YEAR BEHIND HIM

I think today could be Amaury’s day” said Reece Wilson (Trek Factory Racing Gravity) ahead of the men’s UCI Downhill World Cup final, of the French rider who came first in the semi and who would be last to go.

Another Frenchman, Antoine Vidal (Commencal Les Orres) was also the first rider onto the rocks, pedaling hard out of the gate. Vidal, who has recently switched from Enduro to Downhill, rode loose and brave, staying low. A slip in the final sector cost him what was otherwise a clean run. He crossed the line to set a first fastest time of 4’04 - seven seconds slower than he managed in the semi-final.

Greg Minnaar (Norco Factory Racing) the 2021 UCI World Champion who crashed at Fort William was riding well, almost dead level with Vidal but just ahead at the top of the track. He lost a few seconds lower down, but no major errors meant he went into the hotseat by almost six seconds.

After saying he had been a bit disappointed with his qualifying times Richie Rude (Yeti/Fox Factory Race Team) blew the cobwebs off and everyone before him away. He kept it clean and rode hard to gain time at every split, keeping his momentum to go into the lead by three seconds.

The times kept tumbling and although Greg Williamson (Madison Saracen Factory Team) took a while to get going, when he was fast, he was rapid. The British rider took two more seconds off the impressive time set by Rude.

The first big crash of the day came from Bodhi Kunh (Trek Factory Racing Gravity) who ejected while hurtling through the woods in the second sector. He was able to get back on his bike to at least record a time.

Dante Silva (Canyon CLLCTV Pirelli) was a massive two seconds quicker than anyone at the first split, but had he gone too hard too early? He lost some of that in each of the next sectors, reclaimed a fraction in the fourth, and lost too much in the final stretch of track. Second place for him showed quite how strong Williamson had been in the finale.

Luke Meier Smith (Giant Factory Off-Road Team - DH) was aggressive high up the hill to set the fastest first intermediate time but found it harder the further he progressed through the course. It was perhaps a sign of how the weather was beginning to affect the lower slopes.

Jacob Jewitt (Pivot Factory Racing) didn’t seem to mind the rain, making no mistakes and mincemeat of every part of the course. He was in touch until he was ahead, leaving it late but finishing even faster than Williamson, crossing the line two seconds to the good.

Thibaut Daprela showed gains, marginal or maximal, could be found on all sections of the track. Daprela chipped away at Jewitt’s time, gaining a tenth here and there, to sneak into the hotseat by a fifth of second.

Danny Hart (Continental GT Racing) went quickest at the top of the hill and was charging by the middle. He was looking intense and swinging towards the finish, with less than 0.1s in hand at the final time check. Furious pedaling doubled that by the line as he took the lead with 3’51.5. “It’s nice to see number 1 as you go over the line,” he said afterwards.

The day’s only DNF was that of Oliver Davis (Santa Cruz Syndicate) who went a little too far to the right and caught a slippery section of rock to go down hard in the second section. The next man on track Ryan Pinkerton (Mondraker Factory Racing) went down even earlier, on the final corner of the very first stretch.

Reigning UCI World Champion Charlie Hatton (Continental Atherton), who has never finished higher than 7th in Val di Sole, made a few mistakes here and there at the top of the track but nothing to put him completely out of contention. He made up some of the two second deficit on the lower rock garden, helping him to go into 4th with a time of 3’53. “The course is so so hard,” he said. “One section in the trees is dry and you come into the open and it’s incredibly slippery.”

The course was beginning to seriously slip and slide as Dylan Maples (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction) hurtled his way across it. He seemed to find better grip in the mid-section than many of the riders before him - though a second-and-a-half down at split one, by the third he was 0.7s up. He seemed to be getting stronger and braver as he went, flying over the final drop and sprinting into the hotseat by 1.2 seconds.

Dakotah Norton (Mondraker Factory Racing) started as he meant to go on, with a 47 seconds dead first sector, giving him an early lead of almost 2.5 seconds. He opted for lines no-one else had dared, linking it all together to build on that strong start. Norton drifted on the final bend, powering to the line six seconds up. His 3’43.9 was quicker than anyone had managed in the semi and the first time with a chance of a podium spot or better.

I was really nervous going up and knew it would be super slippery and easy to push past the limit,” he said as he watched the racing unfold.

An unusually early start for UCI Downhill World Cup leader Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity), who had a great qualifying run and then crashed in the semi-finals. The Val di Sole monkey appeared not to be leaving his back and though his run was good it didn’t quite click for him the way it had in Leogang. He picked up good speed in the lower section to stay in second, coming into the arena and stopping the clock 3.3 seconds down on Norton. His was still the second fastest time of the day.

Into the final ten riders, where three minutes between starts became five. The first of the top ten was Simon Chapelet (Cube Factory Racing). Visibility at the top of the track was severely reduced and the Frenchman had a wild first section, crossing the line 11 seconds down in 13th.

Oisin O’Callaghan (YT Mob) looked calm and composed as he came down the mountain, threading the needle through the high trunks. He picked up speed the further through the course he went, possibly too much as he almost went over his bars but just about kept it together. Never quite close enough but with a good enough run to guarantee himself another top ten finish.

With three to go, the podium was Norton, Bruni, and Ronan Dunne (Mondraker Factory Racing.)

Troy Brosnan (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Team) is no stranger to the Val di Sole podium himself and evidently had decided to send it from top to bottom. His start was just two tenths off that of the leader, and he was still in touch at the second split, despite almost losing the front end. Brosnan needed to keep building to remain competitive and was hitting every one of his entrances and exits to achieve just that. At check four he was 1.7 seconds down and held it to move into second place and dislodge Ireland’s Ronan Dunne from the top three.

Finn Iles (Specialized Gravity) was calm as can be as he came out of the gate, his WHOOP heart rate monitor recording his pulse as just 122 BPM. He was the only rider to go quicker than Norton at the first split, 0.6 seconds up but just lost a bit of speed into the second sector. He successfully beat the slipperiest early parts of the course and was still up - just - at halfway. He gained a bit, but a slip cost him almost 1.5 seconds. He charged to the bottom but had too much to make up. Bridesmaid last year, second was the best he would be able to manage again.

Only Amaury Pierron (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction) could deny Norton. After breaking his back in 2023 he was making the most of every moment. Pierron’s start was as clean and confident as he could have hoped for, giving him a full second over Norton at the first check. He executed everything as perfectly as possible in the second sector, going 2.7 seconds quicker at split 2 while showing he was willing to risk it all to gain everything. Pierron added another second in the third sector, losing no speed whatsoever and putting the bike exactly where he wanted it to go.

He crossed the line to claim an enormous win by a massive 4.9 seconds.

Afterwards the rider was in disbelief: It’s insane,” he said. “This week marks the one year since surgery on my broken neck. I’ve been through so much this year. It was really bad, but I never gave up, kept dreaming… To win a World Cup on the toughest track is insane… This track was super technical - it was not much full gas, flat-out, it was more of a smart race with good lines. It was really hard mentally and physically. I couldn’t be more stoked.”

ALRAN AND HULSEBOSCH WIN MEN’S AND WOMEN’S JUNIOR DOWNHILLS

The Men’s Junior UCI Downhill World Cup Final was won by Pierron’s team-mate Max Alran (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction) with Asa Vermette (Frameworks Racing) second and Mylann Falquet (Goodman Santacruz) in third. It was a second win in a week for Alran.

That was so fun but really hard,” he said afterwards. He described the track as “a warzone. The holes are so big and if you want to push it’s physically so hard.”

The women’s race was practically an all-Kiwi affair as Eliana Hulsebosch (Union - Forged By Steel City Media) topped the podium by 10 second with compatriots Sacha Earnest (Trek Factory Racing Gravity) and Erice van Leuven (Commencal Les Orres) second and third.

Hulsebosch was overjoyed to take her first ever win at this level: I’ve felt good all season,” she said. “It’s just been getting used to the World Cup stage. Finally got that mental state and I’m feeling really good, just out here riding my bike. I don’t really know what I did, I just wanted to get down and have fun. I did that and it worked.”

Saturday sees the UCI Cross-Country Olympic (XCO) World Cup Finals from Val Di Sole, Trentino. Friday’s UCI Cross-country Short Track (XCC) World Cup delivered elite wins for Alpecin-Deuninck’s Puck Pieterse and UCI World Champion Sam Gaze.

In the U23 races, UCI XCO World Cup leaders Riley Amos (Trek Factory Racing - Pirelli) and Kira Böhm (Cube Factory Racing) will be looking to do the double, after they won their respective XCC races on Friday.

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