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LES GETS READY TO RUMBLE: CROSS-COUNTRY AND DOWNHILL STARS HIT THE SLOPES OF HAUTE-SAVOIE

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LES GETS READY TO RUMBLE: CROSS-COUNTRY AND DOWNHILL STARS HIT THE SLOPES OF HAUTE-SAVOIE

1 week ago

The Downhill, Cross-country Olympic and Cross-country Short Track pros were given a well-earned break last weekend as the Enduro and Cross-country Marathon Elite showed what they could do in the heart of French Alps, specifically in the villages of Combloux and Megève. The 2024 WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series resumes tomorrow just up the road, in the same French department, Haute-Savoie, centered on the cycling-crazy town of Les Gets.

Lejla Njemcevic and Héctor Leonardo Páez rode flawlessly to victory in the Elite Women’s and Men’s UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Cup (XCM) in Megève. In the UCI Enduro World Cups, Antoine Rogge and Estelle Charles took their first wins over the grueling multi-stage competitions set in the hills of Combloux.

Les Gets’ world-famous bike park, with its over 128km of trails making it the biggest in Europe, has been a magnet for mountain bikers of all kinds since 1992. Whether Downhill (DHI), Cross-country Olympic (XCO), freestyle, freeride or electric mountain biking there is something for everyone.

Les Gets has twice hosted UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, in 2004 and 2022, as well as a stage of the Tour de France in 2023. This is the third year in a row that the town welcomes the UCI Mountain Bike World Cups.

WILL THE TRICOLORE FLY AGAIN OVER THE DOWNHILL RACERS?

Home riders dominated in Les Gets last September, claiming three of the four places at the top of the UCI Downhill and Cross-country World Cups podiums, including both downhill gold medals. 

Marine Cabirou (Scott Downhill Factory) was fast in qualifying, faster in the semi-finals, before going on to execute an impeccable final run of the weekend. Cabirou’s sublime second place ride in Val di Sole, Trentino (Italy) two weeks ago shows her form is right where it needs to be, as she looks to achieve  a second consecutive victory on the aggressive Les Gets course.

Apart from the winner in Val di Sole, Tahnee Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV FMD), and overall leader Valentina Höll (YT Mob), Cabirou will need to watch out for compatriot Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Muc-Off by Riding Addiction).

Nicole admits that in the past she might have preferred racing further afield, away from the pressure of home favourite status. These days, she says, “I take this as a chance to have everyone that we love around and cheering for us.”

Unlike some riders, Nicole is hoping rain will fall on the course “I prefer to go slow, so wet means a slower track,” she said. If she cannot take the win, Nicole picks her friend Tahnee Seagrave as her preferred and likely winner. It would not only be a second UCI World Cup win in a row for Seagrave, but a second win on this course after she topped the podium in 2021.

On the men’s side Benoît Coulanges (Dorval AM Commencal) was in touch with the lead but behind for most of his final run in Les Gets last year. He left it late but delivered a rapid fourth sector to find the time he needed for a first ever UCI World Cup win in front of 20,000 fans.

It was incredible, better than my dreams,” Coulanges said in this week’s pre-race press conference.

Coulanges has enjoyed another solid season of Gravity, which has seen him save his best run of each weekend until last. Although he has yet to take another top spot, he has twice finished on the podium - at Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland (Austria) and Bielsko-Biała (Poland). His only finals finish outside the top ten came two weeks ago in Val di Sole.

Arriving in Les Gets, Coulanges is ready to target another high finish. “I feel really good on the bike,” he says.

If not Coulanges, could Nicole’s team-mate Amaury Pierron (Commencal/Muc-Off by Riding Addiction) be the rider to raise home heart rates? The rider, who suffered a devastating injury a year ago, completed a miraculous comeback with a stunning winning ride in Val di Sole.

The rider is approaching the next round of racing in a reflective mood.

Last week was a big high but I’m just trying to keep the ball rolling and stay focussed,” he says.

The key to his victory in Val di Sole was that it was “smooth and clean” but that he didn’t “push too hard,” although he suspects that the Les Gets course will call for a different approach. Despite his coyness, Pierron has good reason to believe he can do it, having won here in 2019.

The overall leader in the men’s competition is another Frenchman, Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity.) Bruni couldn’t manage better than 5th place in Val di Sole.

LES GETS OFFERING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ALTERNATE CROSS-COUNTRY STARS

On the occasions UCI XCO World Champions Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) have competed in the WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series this season, they have both dominated the longer format (XCO). Neither will appear in Les Gets, with Ferrand-Prévot focusing on her Olympic preparation and Pidcock taking to the roads of the Tour de France.

Also absent is American Haley Batten -  My full focus is on becoming my best for Paris 2024,” she said three days ago on Instagram - and Loana Lecomte (Canyon CLLCTV XCO) whose technical superiority carried her to a stunning victory on the sticky Swiss course two weeks ago.

That ought to open the door for others looking to achieve confidence-boosting victories ahead of the Olympics at the end of this month.

It surely makes the hot favourites among the women the overall series leader Alessandra Keller (Thömus Maxon) and Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck). Keller has been getting better as the rounds have progressed, achieving a season-high second place in the UCI Cross-country Olympic World Cup in Crans-Montana, Valais (Switzerland). She will be looking to go one place higher in Les Gets.

Pieterse has shown herself a master of the short track (XCC), winning both of the last two races in Val di Sole and Crans-Montana. Second and third respectively in the XCO demonstrated she is not lacking in endurance either.

Could third place Savilia Blunk (Decathlon Ford Racing Team) step into the shoes of her American colleague? The up-and-coming 25-year-old from California skipped Crans-Montana but still has three third places to her name this season, along with a silver medal. A win surely lies in her future - could it come this weekend? 

Last year’s women’s Les Gets UCI XCO World Cup winner Mona Mitterwallner (Cannondale Factory Racing) has had, by her own account, “a bit of a rough” year so far. That has been largely down to a viral illness which she has still to completely shake off. 

It’s been a slower start to the season,” she says, “but the season is not over and I’m pushing all the way to the end. I just want to look back and say I did everything I can. I just want to have the feeling that I’m flying up the hill again,” she adds. “That’s what drives me.” 

Despite the setbacks, two XCO top tens to her name mean the Austrian is in relatively good shape. She arrives back in Les Gets “with so many good memories and positive feelings” and “I know I can deliver here even if I’m not feeling 100%.”

Nino Schurter (Scott-Sram MTB Racing Team) has a 144-point lead at the top of the UCI Cross-country OIympic World Cup overall standings, but the GOAT’s late DNS blows the race wide open. 

Among those waiting in the wings are second place South African Alan Hatherly (Cannondale Factory Racing) who will be looking to turn his consistent form into something bigger on the rough Alpine tracks of Les Gets.

UCI Cross-country Short-track World Cup overall leader, Victor Koretzky (Specialized Factory Racing) returns to the UCI World Cup having hopefully shaken off the bout of Covid that kept him off the Crans-Montana startlist. Koretzky has shone in the XCC races but his endurance has let him down in his last two XCO appearances, where he finished outside the top 20. Finishing second in both longer races in Brazil, however, show he is more than capable of competing with those targeting Olympic medals. 

Just three points behind Koretzky is another Swiss rider, Filippo Colombo (Scott-Sram MTB Racing Team), who has podiumed in half the events in 2024, across XCC and XCO. 

Koretzky’s team-mate Christopher Blevins is the only rider other than Schurter and Pidcock to triumph in a UCI Cross-country Olympic World Cup race this season. Blevins has had a harder time since that momentous early season day in Mairiporã (Brazil), and will be hoping to find form with Paris just around the corner. 

This will be the last time racing at Les Gets for France’s Maxime Marotte (Decathlon Ford Racing Team), who has recently announced that this will be his final season on the circuit. The 37-year-old Frenchman is, he says, “proud of all the podiums” - a total of 27 UCI World Cup podium finishes across his career - and the “many, many good times” as a professional mountain bike racer.

 

His advice to hopeful riders is to “race with your heart” and “don’t be afraid if there are people stronger than you.”

WARNER BROS. DISCOVERY HOSTS ‘WOMEN IN MOUNTAIN BIKE’ NETWORKING BREAKFAST IN HAUTE-SAVOIE, LES GETS

On Wednesday morning, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) Sports facilitated a "Women in MTB" informal networking breakfast in Les Gets, gathering women from various sectors of the mountain biking world.

The event served as a unique opportunity for women to connect, share experiences, and foster a sense of community within the mountain biking industry. Attendees included representatives from various enduro, downhill and cross-country teams, such as riders, physiotherapists, chefs, or mechanics. Additionally, members of the organization and media personnel covering the event were present, further enriching the networking opportunity.

This initiative highlights WBD's commitment to promoting diversity and inclusivity within the sports industry, particularly in mountain biking, which has seen significant growth and interest in recent years. The action is also aligned with WBD's ongoing efforts to support and empower women in sports, ensuring they have the resources and opportunities to thrive in their respective fields.

Racing gets underway in Les Gets tomorrow with the UCI Downhill World Cup Qualification. Full schedule and events details are available here.

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