What Is Downhill


What Is Downhill

1 year ago

At its core, mountain biking has long been about compromise. Balancing bike technology with rider skill and physical fitness to produce the best possible race results. But not Downhill (DHI). DHI has long been about one thing and one thing only - speed! 

Here’s all that you need to know about Downhill:

What makes this event so special?

The UCI MTB World Series, which hosts the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, is the premier mountain bike race event on earth and is where the very fastest come to do battle across the globe, every year.

Win a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup race and your name is written into the history books. Win enough of them to take the overall title come the end of the season and you can count yourself amongst the greats. 

What is Downhill and what do the courses look like?

First recognised by the UCI in 1993, Downhill has held at its heart a simple format; fastest from top to bottom wins. Its simplicity has been the key to its success and bolstered by the extreme sports boom of the mid to late 1990s, the fastest form of mountain bike racing has had fans the world over leaping from their sofas ever since. 

Colossal speeds, huge jumps and massive technical features are strewn down tracks carpeted with millions of rocks and roots hoping to unseat any rider who takes them on. If you want action, drama and suspense there is only one place to look. 

As mentioned, top-to-bottom in the fastest time possible is about as convoluted as Downhill gets. Racers will walk a track and ‘enjoy’ several practice sessions before racing gets underway to forensically map the course in their heads. 

Line choice is often king in Downhill. The top flight are so tightly matched in terms of raw speed and ability that bravery simply isn’t a big enough differentiator. Spotting a slightly wider corner entry that allows you to hit the apex smoother and exit cleaner will equal valuable tenths of a second which could be the difference between a win and being off of the podium. 

Also, racers will have to deal with track evolution across the course of the week. Holes form, ruts rise and collapse and tree-lined sections can harbour moisture. And that’s before you factor mountain weather into the equation. Downhill is much more than just a ‘stay off the brakes’ freefall to glory - to win a UCI MTB World Cup you need to be cool, calculated and fully in control of your surroundings. Whilst all the time staying off the brakes!

How do you win a Downhill race?

Downhill is enjoying a new golden age. After the extreme sports boom fizzled, it, like many action sports, hit a slump but since then has grown from being cycling’s unruly black sheep to a high tech and methodical professional sport. Just like ski racing or F1, the premise may be simple but when you drill down into the details the practice is anything but. 

To win a UCI Downhill World Cup race requires the perfect run. Such is the level at the top of the sport now that it’s no longer enough to cleave time from a single section, you have to be faster almost everywhere. That race run will only be thrown at the proverbial wall come race day, it’s too much to risk throughout the course of the week. The preparation is about training the mind, bracing the body and sorting the bike for it. Seemingly any rider at the sharp end can win at the minute and the fact that no-one can predict who it will be until the front wheel has broken the beam is a massive part of the format's allure. 

What are the bikes like?

Downhill race bikes are amongst the most focused on the planet. Such is their intent on descending cliff faces at warp speed that to ride one around a car park takes real effort. Their geometry is long and low - plenty of space between the axles to allow their pilot to maximise weight transfer and to stay stable at high speeds. 

They roll on super-sticky tyres, run at extremely low pressures to eke out as much grip from staircase-like root sections and offer the most suspension of the MTB world at 200mm+ of whalloping wheel travel. 

These gravity race sleds also feature dinner-plate sized disc brakes, barn door worrying handlebar widths and the very latest suspension technology. Many of the top teams run motorsport-derived telemetry equipment early on in the week to help them dial in to conditions whilst we’re also seeing a new dawn of computer controlled bouncy bits to help further maximise sector times. 

Who are the riders to watch? 

In the elite women’s field 2023 is perfectly poised to be a classic after a couple of years of an injury-ravaged startlist. It's looking promising that all the big guns will be back and firing once more. Of the aforementioned big hitters, France’s Myriam Nicole is the most senior and well-decorated. She has seven UCI World Championship medals (including two golds) to her name alongside the 2017 UCI World Cup overall title. Camile Balanche of Switzerland is the reigning UCI World Cup overall holder who pipped Nicole to the title in 2022. Austria’s young phenom Valentina Höll is the reigning UCI World Champ and will be hoping to back it up with an overall win. 

Britain’s Tahnée Seagrave has had a tough time on the sidelines for a while but will be hoping to be back to her best in the new year. 

In the elite men’s ranks we are living in a second age of French domination. The first was led by Nico Vouilloz and Fabien Barel throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, its resurgence is being fronted by Loïc Bruni and Amaury Pierron. Ice and fire - the former the metronomic, ice-in-the-veins professional and the latter the unpredictable, wild-eyed rockstar. Bruni took the UCI World Champs title last season, Pierron the UCI World Cup overall. Both would ideally leave 2023 with both titles - fireworks await. 

The French locked out those Les Gets UCI World Champs with Loris Vergier also taking to the podium. Benoit Coulanges remains highly-regarded and long overdue a breakthrough win on the international stage. Outside of the fast Frenchmen, Laurie Greenland leads the once-dominant British charge whilst the GOAT, Greg Minnaar, continues racing top flight Downhill into his 40’s and remains no less capable of pulling off the big results.   

Where can I watch it?

With the firepower of one of the world’s biggest sports broadcasters behind the UCI Mountain Bike World Series, there will be more live coverage and more ways to follow racing than ever before. UCI World Cup Cross-country Olympic, Cross-country Short Track and Downhill events from the UCI Mountain Bike World Series will be available live and on-demand on discovery+*, the Eurosport App and globally on GCN+. UCI World Cup Cross-country Marathon, Enduro and E-Enduro will benefit from in-depth Highlights Shows at every round. More ways to watch will be announced in the coming months. 

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