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HÖLL BACK TO BRILLIANT BEST, NORTON UNBEATABLE IN UCI DOWNHILL WORLD CUP OPENING ROUNDS IN LES GETS, HAUTE-SAVOIE

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HÖLL BACK TO BRILLIANT BEST, NORTON UNBEATABLE IN UCI DOWNHILL WORLD CUP OPENING ROUNDS IN LES GETS, HAUTE-SAVOIE

1 week ago

After an imperfect experience in Val di Sole, Women’s UCI Downhill World Cup leader Valentina Höll (YT Mob) got her season back on track with an impeccable semi-final run in Les Gets. On the men’s side Dakotah Norton (Mondraker Factory Racing) put in two flawless runs to put himself in the optimal position for Saturday’s final.

HÖLL POSITIONS HERSELF AS FAVOURITE, BUT HER RIVALS ARE RUNNING HOT TOO

Women’s UCI Downhill World Champion Valentina Höll (YT Mob) might have experienced a minor wobble in Val di Sole, but she showed her ship is as steady as can be in Haute Savoie. The two best runs of the day of anyone, meant she strengthened her position at the top of the standings, taking maximum points going into Saturday’s finals. 

Not that she can expect to cruise to a third UCI World Cup victory of the season, as every one of her closest rivals showed themselves be in or close to their best form of the year. If anything, the difference may prove to be who held what back, and who was trying out different lines under test conditions.

None of which is to undermine Höll’s performances which were, as so often, grace personified. What it is, however, is to maintain a degree of doubt. How the final will unfold is an unknown until it isn’t.

In her first run she was only behind - and barely - in the opening sector. The shining light of Val di Sole, Tahnee Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV FMD), was the quickest of the day out of the blocks, but where Höll found time across the course, Seagrave had more of a stop-start run. The Britain’s most troublesome sector was the fourth, where she dropped nearly half of the three seconds she was behind the Austrian at the finish.

Home favourite Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction) made her fans happy by getting quicker after the second split. Level at the first split, down a shade under two seconds at the second, she lost less than three tenths of a second more, and would run Höll much closer if she could beat that bit of the track. As it was, in her semi-final, although she was better in that sector it still made the difference between her and Höll.

Seagrave evidently learned some lessons from her opening run and although she too has problems to solve in sector two, she actually took time out of the Austrian on the second half of the track. If either or both she or Nicole can put the best parts of their runs together one of them stands a very strong chance on Saturday. 

With the top ten semi-finalists separated by just ten seconds, the final is sure to be a close-run thing. 

DAKOTAH NORTON SETS THE ALPS ON FIRE IN THE SEMIS

160 male riders launched themselves onto the Hautes Savoie downhill course early on Friday afternoon in the opening heat. Only 61 of them made the semi. Dakotah Norton (Mondraker Factory Racing) was fastest of all of them, all day long.

Norton seems to have saved his best form of the season to early July. Sixth place overall and an outsider coming into this weekend, based on his opening timed runs he has now marked himself out as one of the favourites.

What most impressed was that in neither his qualifier nor semi-final was the American fastest at the top of the Les Gets downhill track - but he was quickest where it really mattered - at the bottom. That’s where the clock stops.

His first run making him the last man to drop down the ramp in the semi-final, he made it to the first split in a lowly ninth place, with work to do. He got on and did it.Less than a minute later, reaching the second check he had gone from a quarter of a second down to almost half a second up.After that he was cruising, finding his flow and leaving the weight of the world behind him.

Andreas Kolb (Continental Atherton) in contrast, started strongly only to lose his rhythm. The Austrian made no fatal flaws but nor did he match the challenges presented by the course. Koln dropped a second at each of the final splits to finish 7th and he will start 7th from last in Saturday’s final. 

The winner in Val di Sole, Amaury Pierron (Commencal/Muc-Off by Riding Addiction) demonstrated that his performance three weeks ago was anything but a one-off, riding comfortably to finish 9th in the heat and score a strong second place behind Norton in the semi-final.

For his part, series leader Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) set off to a relatively easy start in the opening qualifying heat, apparently treating it more like an additional reconnaissance run than a full bore, competitive effort. A slip mid-way down the track from which he struggled to recover cost him time and places and meant a season-worst finish of 42nd.

He more than made up for it in the semi-final however and put in an especially quick final split. That meant he finished third when it matters and will be third from last out of the box in the final.

Bruni’s team-mate Finn Iles was a rare rider who excelled himself in the qualifier only to have more trouble in the semi, dropping from 3rd to 9th. A top ten start will nevertheless mean he remains among the big-name riders to watch.

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