Sunday, August 2, 2009

Round Sette --- Bromont, Quebec

The Canadians put together another burly, rocky course for the world's fastest riders this weekend, and the results were very, very close. The top 5 were separated by just a couple seconds on the 2:30 speed course. Sam Hill maintained his slim lead in the overall, but it will all get decided at the last race in Austria come September. The riders will have a long break until Worlds and I imagine they can't wait for Canberra.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Round Seis - Mont St Anne, Quebec

Another round of burly, rocky, long, speedy racing took place in the Great White North this past weekend at the old stomping grounds of Mont St Anne. The Worlds will take place here next year, which will be interesting considering how familiar everybody is with this course.

The big news was the return of Shaun Palmer to DH racing via a brand new Intense bike. I don't think he is sponsored per-se, but it looked like he was given a lot of product to showcase at the pits. He attracts a crowd wherever he goes (even at age 40), and is great at promoting his sponsors.

The race played out as it always does with Sam Hill and Steve Peat battling it out for top spot on the box. Sam won this week, but it was the 50th World Cup podium experience of Steve Peat's career, which is absolutely phenomenal, and may never be equaled again.

Chris Kovaric had a great race and finished 6th, while Steve Smith kept his top-10 overall placing with a solid 7th. Aaron Gwin snuck into the top-10 overall by finishing 3rd, the best result for an American in years. Yeti must be stoked. Sam Blenkinsop rode well, but must have had a crash as his time was so-so.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Round Five --- Maribor, Slovenia

Unfortunately I slept through this one, and only got to see the men's and women's podium presentation. There was no surprises with the ladies (all French and one Japanese rider), but when the men walked out, there was a huge surprise with the French rider Fabian Barel. After hurting his knee during the first race in South Africa, he decided to strengthen the knee (as opposed to surgery) in preparation for the second half of the season. That decision turned out to be a good one, as he came back fresh and managed to squeek out a close victory over Sam Hill (< 1 second). Sam was gracious on the podium and was the only rider to take off his hat during the French national anthem.

The MS Evil Team rode strongly with a 7th place (Steve Smith), 8th place (Matti Lehikoinen), and 22nd place (Filip Polc). They really shine on the rough courses like Maribor and Ft William. It will be a long break until the next race in Canada, so hopefully the riders are resting up with the last few races of the summer.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Round Four --- Ft Bill, Scotland

Riders were blessed with clear, warm conditions thanks climate change. Normally this course is soaking wet, wicked cold, and hella slippery. I managed to get up and watch the last 40 riders live on Freecaster, and despite some awkward (but funny) interactions between Rob Warner and the Dutch 4x star Anika Beerten, the live telecast was a little dull. It will be tough to beat the top-to-bottom coverage from the 2nd race in La Bresse for excitement and race coverage.

Mick Hannah (Australia, GT-Mongoose) bikes showed that he is the real deal, and continued his consistent top-5 placing in the rankings. The MS-Evil team did really well, with Steve Smith holding the hot seat briefly, and ending the day in the top 1o for the race and top 10 of the UCI world cup rankings. Sam Hill (Australia, Specialized) had the most impressive jersey, and just barely lost due to the incredible pedalling effort put out by the winner, Greg Minnar (South Africa, Santa Cruz Bikes). Top Americans were Aaron Gwin (Yeti) and Duncan Riffle (Duncan Riffle Racing).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Round Trois --- Andorra, France/Spain

Andorra is one of those small, "island" countries within a country like Luxemborg or Monoco. A left over from long dead royalties. The third installment of the World Cup series took place on the recently snow covered ski slopes in the Pyrennes along the Spanish/French border. Apparently it was the same course as last year, but much drier, and less sketchy.

Surprisingly the mood and crowds were much tamer than last week's race in La Bresse. Maybe everybody was exhausted from all the travel of back-to-back races? Anyways, Steve Peat managed to win two in a row and set the all-time UCI DH race win record with 17. Sam Hill or Gee Atherton could beat this someday, or maybe not? The competition is so much fiercer, and it is hard to see anybody racing as long as Peaty.

Notable results also included a back-to-back win by Sabrina Jonnier (France, Rocky Mountain-Maxxis) on a fast, burly track, which obviously fits her strengths. For the men, the entire Santa Cruz team finished in the top 10, the MS Evil team in the top 20, and Trek Bikes got their first men's podium with Justin Leov piloting the Session 88 to a notable 5th place finish. Sam Hill was leading all the way down, but had a nasty over the bars crash near the finish, and came in around 30th place. He will be back and more motivated than ever.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Round Deux --- La Bresse, France

So first off, where the hell is La Bresse? I had to look that one up, and it turns out it is east of Dijon, near the German border. Not quite Strasbourg, but headed in that direction. I wonder how the riders got there? Anyway, on to the qualifier race...A large field of 195 starters were fighting for one of 80 spots in the finals, and after a long day of riding the top three were Steve Peat, Gee Atherton, and Mick Hannah.

Race day brought out huge crowds, particularly along the lower, rocky section of the course. I managed to get up and actually watch the last seven riders on Freecaster. The usual suspects did well, but a few sleepers such as Kyle Straight (USA/Specialized), Brendan Fairclough (Great Britain/Specialized), Sam Blenkinsop (NZ/Yeti-Fox Racing), Aaron Gwin (USA/Yeti-Fox Racing), Steve Smith (Canada/MS Evil Cycles) and Julian Camellini (France/Chain Reaction-Intense Cycles) managed to crack the top 15. The entire MS Evil Cycles team managed to crack the top 30 (Steve Smith 15th, Matti Lehikoinen 19th, and Filip Polc 30th).

The highlight of the day was watching Steve Peat crush it at the end, under all the pressure of being the last rider on the course. He was clearly pushing the limit as he appeared to be sliding/drifting in lots of sections on the course. The best part of his ride was his victory celebration which included high fiving the entire fan section surrounding the finish line, followed by a full sprint power slide on his knee pads. Its no wonder that Peaty is the most beloved MTB rider in the world.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Race#1---Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

Tracy Moseley (Great Britain/Trek Bikes) stuck to her winning ways from the previous week by pedaling her Session 88 to well deserved victory in South Africa. She did not have much competition, due to Rachel Atherton being out with an injury, and Sabrina Jonnier riding tentatively after a training ride crash.

The Men's raced panned out as expected, with the usual suspects rounding out the top 5. The big surprise, however, was Mick Hannah (Australia/Mongoose-GT Bikes) qualifying first and backing it up with solid 2nd place finish in the finals. The flat, pedal focused course suited his strengths and he showed his peers that he deserves to be back after a year hiatus. Greg Minnaar (South Africa/Santa Cruz Bikes) surprised nobody by winning easily on his home turf. He stepped up under the pressure and delivered the victory to adoring fans from his nearby hometown.

Sam Hill (Australia/Specialized-Monster) had a surprisingly good run despite all the pedaling required, and the low expectations for his performance. He looks a lot skinnier than usual, which may be due to some new training program put together by his new sponsor. Either that or he working on his fitness in advance of the upcoming, pedal focused Worlds in his home country.

The disappointment of the day had to go to Chris Kovarik (Australia/Intense-Chain Reaction) who qualified third, after winning on the same course the week before, then crashing in the finals in a rocky section near the top of the course. I am pulling for Chris to get it back together as he always been one of my favorite riders after watching his 2nd place ride at the Squaw Valley, CA World Cup in the summer of 1999 (1st went to Nico V. of France).

Other surprisingly slow results went to Sam Blenkinsop (NZ/Yeti Fox Racing) 28th, and the entire MS Evil Racing Team (Steve Smith 20th, Filip Polc 37th, and Matti Lehikoinen 81st). Maybe they spent too much time in the team trailer the night before?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Season Begins

Elite DH racers are gathered in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa for the upcoming UCI World Cup race on Easter weekend. Several of the racers just participated in a national race held at the same venue as a warm up for big day. Chris Kovarik (Intense Cycles) won the men's race, while Tracy Moseley (Trek) won the women's race. Andrew Neethling (Trek) came in 2nd, riding the same Session 88 bike as Tracy, and sporting a Leatt neck brace. It will be interesting to see how many riders start riding with them as they gain more acceptance.

Monday, March 9, 2009

More Bike Porn

Looks like Clay Porter is releasing his annual DH MTB Movie. This year's offering is called "The Tipping Point" and it will have its US Premiere at Sea Otter on April 17th. Here is a sneak peak courtesy of Decline Magazine:

Saturday, February 28, 2009

DH MTB Teams to Watch in 2009

Downhill mountain bike racing is fashionable again, and despite the global recession, sponsors are lining up to financially back the Formula One of cycling. Not since the late 90's heyday of Shaun Palmer and Nicolas Vouilloz have so many bike manufacturers stepped up to increase their spending on R&D and racing across the world. Here are some of the bigger names and the teams to watch in 2009.

The big S is diving back into the sport and is relying on ex-racer Scott Sharples to shepherd two of the sport's bigger egos into piloting the Demo 8 to bigger victories than slope style events. Specialized lured Sam Hill and Brendan Fairclough over from Iron Horse to give it a go for the Morgan Hill squad. They will no doubt be under a lot of pressure to perform at the nearby Sea Otter in mid-April.

Trek Bicycles
Trek lured three DH veterans away from established programs (Andrew Neethling (Mongoose), Justin Leov (Yeti), and Tracy Moseley (Kona)) to race their new Session 88 DH bike. This bike usually gets a lot hype around its proven ability as an All-Mountain ride based on its development by Andrew Shandro in the wet and wild conditions of the Pacific Northwest. We will have to see how it performs under racing conditions on the variety of conditions to be encountered during this year's World Cup season. Martin Whiteley, DH mountain biking super agent, and former Team Honda leader, has been hired by Trek to manage the squad. They ought to do well with him around, as his teams have consistently won many races.

Evil Bikes - MS Racing
I don't know anything about Evil Bikes other than they clearly like Danzig and have said that they will be playing Slayer regularly in their team RV. The international squad consists of Filip Polc (Poland), Steve Smith (Canada), and Matti Lehikonen (Finland). All three are fantastic riders, though Matti is the only one to ever podium in World Cup events. Hopefully he doesn't drink too much beer in the team RV, or his results may suffer.

Yeti Bicycles
The Golden, CO company has absolutely reinvented itself as a premier racing organization after its fall from grace in the late 90's. Yeti started the careers of many MTB pioneers such as John Tomac, Julie Furtado, and Missy Giove, and is doing the same these days with a young crop of Kiwis and Aussies such as Sam Blenkinsop, Aaron Gwin, and Jared Graves. Look for the team of to dominate both DH and 4X wherever they choose to race. Sam Blenkinsop is the only rider to beat Sam Hill at Schladaming in years. And he did it without gloves.

Santa Cruz Syndicate
And last, but not least, how I could not discuss the lads from Santa Cruz who consistently stood on the podium, and won the overall World Cup, last season. I was sad to see they cut Nathan Rennie loose, but maybe it was for the best. Josh Bryceland won the World Championships last year with a pretty sweet mohawk. Maybe he will do the same in 2009? As for Peaty, I hope he makes it happen in Canberra, but his best chance ever may have been last year.