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VAL DI SOLE UCI DOWNHILL WORLD CUP PRODUCES TRADEMARK EXCITEMENT IN OPENING ROUNDS, AS OVERALL LEADERS BRUNI AND HÖLL FAIL TO HAVE IT ALL THEIR OWN WAY

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VAL DI SOLE UCI DOWNHILL WORLD CUP PRODUCES TRADEMARK EXCITEMENT IN OPENING ROUNDS, AS OVERALL LEADERS BRUNI AND HÖLL FAIL TO HAVE IT ALL THEIR OWN WAY

4 weeks ago

The opening day of the WHOOP UCI Downhill World Cup in Val di Sole, Trentino (Italy) delivered drama and surprises, demonstrating that early season dominance is no guarantee of continued success. Neither Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) nor Valentina Höll (YT Mob) will be last to go in their respective finals on Sunday. Höll was pushed into third in her semi-final by a world class run from Jess Blewitt (Cube Factory Racing) while an early slip from Bruni in his own semi will mean a much earlier start for him in the final than he’s used to.

From her opening run in Val di Sole, you’d have thought Myriam Nicole (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction) had never been away. The Frenchwoman, who has podiumed here six times over the course of her career, including three victories, missed last year’s event due to injury. Nevertheless, Nicole took to the track like she knew every bump and bend both blindfold and backwards, setting a stunning benchmark time of 4:35.308.

The rider in second in that opening heat Jess Blewitt (Cube Factory Racing) had put in such a formidable run of her own that she might have justifiably expected the time to hold up. More than three seconds separated the kiwi from Camille Balanche (Dorval AM Commencal) in third. Balanche will have been delighted by her own opening effort which saw UCI Downhill World Champion Valentina Höll (YT Mob) pushed into fourth place.

Balanche had a harder time in the semi-final. A crash in sector 2 left her no choice but to leave the course and ride down to the finish.

At the top the tables were turned in the semi-final, as Blewett stormed down the track as if she was late for a train. She was fastest of anyone out of the gate and only slipped back slightly in the middle part of the course. Blewett must have kept more in the tank that the rest, however. Virtually level with Höll and Nicole at the final checkpoint, She gained almost 2.5 seconds between there and the finish. Her semi-final time was almost four seconds quicker than her opening heat.

Nicole couldn’t quite repeat the first-round brilliance that gave her the quickest run of anyone all day, but her 4’39.4 was good enough for second place, and for keeping the looming threat of Valentina Höll contained.

For her part Höll put in such a blistering second sector - which put her fastest by three seconds at the split - it seemed as if she was going to cruise to victory. The half a second she lost to Hewett in the penultimate sector was always going to be hard to make up, and in the end the risks taken towards the line cost her more time. It means she will start 3rd from last in the final, tomorrow afternoon.

Three seconds further back Marine Caribou (Scott Downhill Factory) put in a solid ride for 4th place. Meanwhile Phoebe Gale (Canyon CLLCTV FMD) got one over on older team-mate and close friend Tahnee Seagrave, as the British rider struggled to find her rhythm on the course. 

WILL THE MEN’S EVENT LOOKS BE ANOTHER BATTLE OF THE BOYS FROM SPECIALIZED GRAVITY?

It certainly looked that way from the opening heat. A few days ago Loïc Bruni (Specialized Gravity) called Val di Sole’s ‘Black Snake’ run “one of those tracks where I've never found the right feeling.” He certainly found a groove in his opening timed run, denying his junior team-mate maximum points by 0.11 seconds.

Seventh place in the overall standings Dakotah Norton (Mondraker Factory Racing) produced an above expectations ride for 3rd in the opening heat, while 2nd in the standings Luca Shaw (Canyon CLLCTV FMD) had a more difficult descent. Shaw had been tipped by a few of his rivals as a possible winner of the round but was six seconds off the pace on the first round. 9th place is his second worst result this season.

The last rider to squeak through to the semis was Kye A’hern (Kenda NS Bikes UR Team), qualifying in 60th place by three tenths of a second over Antoine Rogge (Lapierre Zipp Collective).

In the semifinals the 15th rider to start Simon Chapelet (Cube Factory Racing) set the first fast time with 3.52.5 but it was one that was never likely to hold up. His spell in the hotseat was short-lived, as first Joe Breeden (Intense Factory Racing) then Andreas Kolb (Continental Atheron) undercut him.

The first seriously quick time was set by Amaury Pierron (Commencal/Muc-Off By Riding Addiction), however. Pierron’s 3’44.3 was four seconds better than anyone had managed in the qualifying round.

The penultimate rider to go, Finn Iles had Pierron by more than a second at the third split, only to lose twice that in the fourth sector. That meant he would have to settle for second at best. The only rider who might challenge was Bruni, but the Frenchman once again fell victim to the problems that have beset him here in the past. 

He was in touch, but not winning, at the first split. A crash in sector 2 was one he could not recover from. It cost him 8 seconds over that sector, which multiplied to more by the finish. It means he will start the final with 23 riders behind him.

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