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VAL DI SOLE READY TO GIVE A WORLD CLASS WELCOME TO CROSS-COUNTRY AND DOWNHILL STARS THIS WEEKEND

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VAL DI SOLE READY TO GIVE A WORLD CLASS WELCOME TO CROSS-COUNTRY AND DOWNHILL STARS THIS WEEKEND

1 month ago

After seven fast and furious rounds, the WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series 2024 reaches its halfway point this weekend in Val di Sole, Trentino.

Last weekend in Saalfelden Leogang - Salzburgerland gave us some of the most aggressive racing we’ve seen all season, with Enduro and Downhill stars pushing themselves up to - and often past - their limits. This time it’s the turn of the Enduro crew to tag out while the Cross-Country kids tag back in to tackle the legendary Val di Sole trails.

Located in the heart of the Italian Alps, Val di Sole is known globally as a mountain biking paradise. When it comes to top level competition its pedigree is no less long and illustrious: Since the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships were first held there in 2008 it has never failed to thrill and it has been a regular UCI World Cup venue since 2010.

The Black Snake is one of the most notorious runs on the Downhill circuit. Some riders like it better than others but everyone starts with a clean slate on Friday.

BEWARE THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS
Hopefully the riders are paying attention, because the Val di Sole organizers have made some significant alterations to the UCI Cross-country Olympic (XCO) World Cup course they raced last year. The changes include shortening the final climb by a few meters, incorporating a section of the four-track course, and adding an entirely new one ahead of a completely redesigned last descent. It’s all in service to spectacle and should allow for fans to follow even more of the races, more closely than ever.

Course Technical Director Sergio Battistini says, "The TV show and the spectators on the course will gain even more".

The UCI Cross-country Short Track (XCC) World Cup course consists of a 940m circuit and 29m total elevation, with the XCO course beginning on the same short-track loop. It then proceeds onto the 3.54km main course, with 224m of ascent.

The downhill riders will take on the infamous “Black Snake” track, considered a monument in international downhill racing. The name comes from the treacherous tree roots that characterize the most famed track in the Val di Sole Bike Park. When it rains, the roots turn black, resembling a snake.

The course is 2.1 km long, with an average gradient of 24% and a total drop of 550 meters. The Black Snake is unique due to its natural look and feel, and the straight line it takes through the forest. From top to bottom, riders are presented with different challenges. They must navigate roots, rocks, and avoid coming unstuck on the thin, sandy surface.

The Black Snake announced itself on the international stage in 2008, when the first UCI Mountain Bike World Championships were organized in Val di Sole. Such is its prestige that the track hosted three more UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - in 2016, 2018 and 2021. Between the most recent two, the run was treated to a major overhaul in line with sporting trends, without sacrificing the unique character that makes it such a fan and rider favorite.

The focus of the mods was primarily on the upper track, where a rock garden was added, while in the lower section, the Sam Hill curve - where the Australian famously crashed in 2008 - has also seen some adjustments made to it.

The Black Snake contributed to the legends of sporting greats such as Rachel Atherton, Aaron Gwin, and Myriam Nicole, all of whom have won here.

This week’s Val di Sole start lists are a veritable ‘who’s who’ of mountain bike in 2024. Every elite, junior and U23 rider from the current top 5 of both cross-country categories and downhill is due to line up in Val di Sole. The only major name missing in action is that of Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers). The men’s UCI Cross-country Olympic World Champion who stormed to victory in Nové Město na Moravě (Czechia) will still be in the Alps, only on the other side, racing on the road in the UCI WorldTour event, the Tour de Suisse.

HOLDING FERRAND-PREVOT’S FEET TO THE FIRE

Women’s UCI Cross-country Olympic World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Ineos Grenadiers) will be present however, as she looks to make it two wins from two this season. Her storming performance a fortnight ago shows she’s as far from rusty as a rider can be. Ferrand-Prévot might have grabbed headlines earlier in the week in relation to her road racing ambitions, but this weekend the 32 year-old will be all about the mountain bike.

Among those looking to deny the Frenchwoman two wins on the spin will be XCO series leader Haley Batten (Specialized Factory Racing), who has only once been off the podium this season, and not since the first UCI XCC World Cup round in Mairiporã, Brazil back in April. Similarly consistent and targeting a second win of the year will be Switzerland’s Alessandra Keller (Thömus Maxon).

Last year’s winner in Val di Sole, Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck), will be aiming for a second victory in Trentino. This season the Dutch rider has only one UCI World Cup ride under her belt, though that was a strong 5th place in Nové Město na Moravě’s UCI XCO World Cup.

Having previously believed the Daolasa di Commezzadura park wasn’t suited to her proficiencies, Italian National Champion Martina Berta (Santa Cruz RockShox Pro Team) surprised herself by finishing second to Pieterse last year. She’ll be aiming to go one better this week and has spent time thinking about how she can.

Val di Sole has a very demanding course, she says.

It doesn’t leave you any room to breathe. Both climbing and descending skills are very important, and after the effort on the climb you really need to find a way to follow the best trajectories to save energy for the following sectors. Making a difference in the descents is very difficult in Val di Sole: there you need to balance the need to go fast while also keeping a margin of safety. Last year I managed to do this all.

It was, she continues

The turning point in my career. Of course I was in good physical shape, but it was the mental aspect that made the difference at such a high level.

KORETZKY KRUIZING?

At a glance the overall standings of the men’s side of the same event might make it look like a one-horse race. On (a devilish) 666 points Victor Koretzky (Specialized Factory Racing) leads the pack by a massive 170 points, but Nové Město na Moravě demonstrated that he’s human after all. The Frenchman sprinted to victory in the UCI Cross-country Short Track race, but had a tougher day in the XCO and finished way down in 20th.

Koretzky’s team-mate Christopher Blevins is his closest challenger, 170 points back, though just 31 points separate Blevins in 2nd from the great Nino Schurter (Scott-Sram MTB Racing Team) in 6th. Schurter was a comfortable second two weeks ago, but he’s been inconsistent, especially compared to the likes of Sam Gaze (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Alan Hatherly (Cannondale Factory Racing.) Val di Sole seems set to make or break a few Cross-country riders’ seasons.

IT WILL TAKE A SPECIAL PERFORMANCE TO STOP VALENTINA HÖLL

Among the women’s downhill elite riders, the big question is whether anyone can stop Valentina Höll (YT Mob.) The UCI World Champion rode out of her skin in Saalfelden Leogang – Salzburgerland, delighting home crowds with an impeccable technical and physical performance. Hers was the last run of the day, and the Austrian made it look easy.

She evidently holds no fear of the snake, having taken a very special victory in Val di Sole last year.

Höll’s closest competition in the overall - though still nearly 300 points down - Tahnee Seagrave (Canyon CLLCTV FMD) might have been able to challenge her time. Seagrave was riding well until she and her bike parted company in the woods. The only woman other than Höll to stand atop a podium this season, Marine Cabirou (Scott Downhill Factory), might be the rider best placed to beat her. Cabirou was only five seconds off the pace on the same track in 2023.

BRUNI TAKING NOTHING FOR GRANTED IN VAL DI SOLE

Despite dominating the 2024 UCI Downhill World Cup with two victories from the three rounds so far, and 300+ point lead in the overall standings, reigning men’s champion Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) seems to be feeling the pressure. The 30-year-old has never won on the Trentino track, and finished a lowly (for him) 14th here last year.

Val di Sole is one of those tracks where I've never found the right feeling, Bruni admits. 

I have to manage the race differently… It's a mix of many things I haven't been able to put together. I'm feeling more positive now, and I hope that helps break the Val di Sole spell.

If that inspires anyone it might be his Specialized Gravity team-mate Finn Iles. The Canadian was one small mistake by Bruni away from his first UCI World Cup win of the season on Sunday. If he can take it anywhere, it’ll be in Val di Sole, where he silver medaled behind compatriot Jackson Goldstone a year ago. Goldstone will not appear this weekend due to injury.

Luca Shaw (Canyon CLLCTV Factory Team) must fancy his chances as well. The US national champion has been Mr Consistency this season, as the only rider to finish every race - qualifiers, semis, and finals - inside the top ten. He may have been nine seconds off the pace at Val di Sole in 2023, but he also finished one place higher than Bruni. That but with a gold medal around his neck would certainly do on Sunday,

Racing gets underway in Val di Sole on Friday with the UCI Cross-country Short Track World Cup. Full schedule and events details are available here.

The Trentino valley that will host the WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series action this weekend will also be home of the 2026 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships from August 26th to 30th, 2026.

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