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1 month ago

Valentina Höll (YT Mob) might be in possession of a commanding overall lead after three rounds of the women’s UCI Downhill World Cup, but her rivals still have their eyes on first prize. 

We’re still pretty early in the season,” says second place Tahnee Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV FMD). “It would just take one race where Vale crashes and doesn’t get any points to catch her up again. I’m not in the race for second.” 

Although Höll won by seven seconds in Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland, Seagrave, who will turn 29 on Saturday, suggests that’s the trend points towards tighter results:

When you see the results sheet, you can see that we’re super close - not last week because everyone had issues - but Fort William was the closest it’s ever been.”

We will fight to the end,” agrees Marine Cabirou (Scott Downhill Factory), currently in third position in the series. “The women's races are always tighter, she adds. “It’s crazy, we all fight for the win in every race

Cabirou has good reason to believe she can win in Val di Sole, having finished on every UCI World Cup podium here since 2019. The French rider denies having “the special key to success, but it’s a track that I like. It’s technical, so that’s maybe why I always have a good result here.”

The men’s side finds Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) with a similarly insurmountable lead at the top. One of Bruni’s closest rivals is his own team-mate, Finn Iles. Isles had a difficult time in Saalfelden Leogang - Salzburgerland. He crashed on Friday and decided to sit out Saturday’s qualifying runs. Nonetheless he managed to fly down the track and put in a strong time that was only bettered by Bruni.

I never really felt like I was going to win on Sunday but for him to come down and put that much time into us was pretty frustrating,” Isles says ahead of round 4. The Canadian isn’t bitter, however, and in fact enjoys the rivalry that has built up between the pair:

Being on the same team, he has a little bit of an older brother relationship with me - anything you can do I can do better. It makes me work harder, be more driven and to want to be a better racer. He’s been a good mentor to me. It’s hard to be mad when someone’s just better than you that day. It’s more reflective - how can I do better?

After Iles finished second a year ago in Val di Sole, he is looking forward to returning to the infamous ‘Black Snake’ in hope of going one better: 

It’s really physical but I feel like my preparation is really strong and the way I ride my bike suits this track,” he says. “It’s quite similar to a lot of the stuff I ride back home, with the roots and the rocks and how rough and physical it is. I think it’s a good track for me, and I really enjoy it because I like it when it’s harder and fast. Coming down this track on a race run is hard but it’s a lot of fun too. When I’m having fun I thrive.”

Winning the UCI Cross-country Short Track World Cup in Val di Sole in 2023 gave Luca Schwarzbauer (Canyon CLLCTV XCO) the confidence that “I can perform more or less on any short track course… I think with the right tactic and with the right legs I can be strong here again, but first I have to get my stuff together. The characteristics should suit me okay.”

Schwarzbauer, who sits in 9th place in the standings but less than 100 points behind 2nd, can’t see past one man for the UCI Cross-country Olympic World Cup victory in Trentino:

It’s so so tight at the moment [in the overall standings] but there’s one guy who is always at the top. Nino [Schurter] won last year on the long distance and if I have to pick one it’s probably him. It’s the easiest answer.” 

While taking the season one weekend at a time for Schwarzbauer, like almost all riders this year, the Olympics is seldom far from his mind. He is, however, determined not to talk up his chances too much.

A[n Olympic] medal is the biggest goal an athlete in our sport can have… It’s maybe a bit too much but I think it should be the goal. If I say I go for top ten the motivation is not high enough to give 100%. When everything comes together, and that’s what we have to hope for, I think I have the physical and mental abilities, but there are for sure some riders who can have bigger hopes.”

Like Schwarzbauer, UCI World Cup U23 Cross-country leader Riley Amos (Trek Factory Racing - Pirelli) is similarly excited about Paris 2024 but is similarly managing his own expectations, while talking up those of another American.

Chris [Blevins] has shown that on the right day he can beat the best in the world,” says Amos. “I’m getting there but this year it was a goal just to get to go. LA ‘28 is my goal at this point. I’m going to soak it in and enjoy the moment.”

In his own competition Amos’ pick for the weekend is a Frenchman: “I think Luca Martin will be really strong. Last year he was so strong, but he had a mechanical on the last lap that was a heartbreaker. I know he’ll be fired up to come take it from me this week.”

Of the female cross-country riders, all home eyes will be on Martina Berta (Santa Cruz Rockshox Pro Team).

Berta put in a great ride in Val di Sole last year to finish 2nd.

I didn’t expect last to be that strong,” she says. “I was working well and knew a podium was a possibility. But you never know on the day, when everybody looks strong. This year there will be a lot of crowds, and friends and people that I know really well. It’s a good motivation and I’m really excited to race here in Italy.”

Her pick for victory the weekend? No surprises that she opts for the great Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Ineos Grenadiers), who dominated the UCI Cross-country Olympic World Cup in Nové Město na Moravě, winning by more than a minute from Haley Batten (Specialized Factory Racing.)

I think Pauline will be strong again this weekend,” says Berta.

Racing gets underway tomorrow, June 14 in Val di Sole, Trentino. Full schedule and event details are available HERE.

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