FLUKES, CURSES AND MIND GAMES | 2018 MTB World Championships, Lenzerheide 15

One run is all they get at World Champs, and history has proven that the results of that one run are as unpredictable as mountain weather.

FLUKES, CURSES AND MIND GAMES | 2018 MTB World Championships, Lenzerheide

There are those who say that winning the overall World Cup series is a more significant achievement than winning the single-race World Championships, and while that may be true on a purely objective level, the do-or-die nature of Worlds coupled with the fact that you are racing for your country makes it the one that everybody wants to take home. Looking back through the years, the World Championships consistently produce incredible racing and story lines that can define a career. From Nicolas Vouilloz's insurmountable 10 titles to Danny Hart's legendary 2011 Champery run, never forgetting Peaty's crowning glory in Canberra in 2009, the yearly hunt for the elusive rainbow stripes is without a doubt one of the absolute highlights of the racing season. For the 2018 edition, we are just about to head to Lenzerheide, Switzerland, so to set the scene and start getting you excited we've prepared this event overview along with a little analysis and some predictions. Jump right in, and don't forget to add your own observations in the comments!

The Jersey

This is what all the fuss is about. Win Worlds, and you get to wear the Rainbow Stripe jersey in every qualifying and race run of the following season. It is an honor bestowed upon the chosen few, and for the very best in the sport it is a must-have addition to the trophy room.

Gee Atherton wearing the Rainbow Stripes at the 2015 World Cup in Lenzerheide. With great results here and showing strong recent form, Gee was a sure-fire bet to make the 2018 Worlds squad for everybody except the British Cycling selection committee...

The Track

The "STRAIGHTline" track sits in the Lenzerheide Bike Park, a small resort in the Graubunden canton of Switzerland. Despite being billed as a "bike park track" (duh), it was built with the help of Steve Peat and offers up a fast and rough challenge that always produces tight and exciting racing. The track is 2.2 kms long, drops 413 meters from top to bottom, and the course record set by Greg Minnaar in 2017 stands at 2:57.

 

Starting from the top, the track presents a few fast sweeping corners before entering a particularly nasty rockgarden, followed by a mix of open and wooded sections and some big wooden drops thrown in for good measure.

Sam Dale gets a taste of rock in 2015.
Rampage or Racing? Brayton sends the finish line drop in 2017.
Bike Parks and Brendog go together like fish and chips. Sadly, Brendan didn't make the Worlds squad this year - the steeze will be sorely missed!

The Weather

The previous three Lenzerheide World Cups have all been held in July, and bar a few showers they have largely been run in the dry. We know the course benefits from a bit of overnight rain, but what we don't know is how it works in a monsoon. It is currently cold, wet, and a bit miserable in Lenzerheide, and the long term forecast looks...variable. We can only hope for fair conditions come race day.

Previous Results and Some Predictions

Lenzerheide popped up on the World Cup circuit for the first time in 2015, part of a three-World-Cup-and-one-World-Champs deal. Looking through the previous results could give us an indication of who might be expected to do well again here this year, so let's dig in:

In the elite men's category, only three racers have scored a top 10 at every Lenzerheide race so far: Greg, Troy, and Danny. Another select group of riders have scored at least one Lenzerheide top 10 previously: Gwin, Dean Lucas, Luca Shaw, Brook, Connor, Fairclough, Gee, Laurie, Phil Atwill, Remi T, Rudy Cabirou, Florent Payet, Jure Zabjek. 

From this list, who is most likely to do well? On 2018 results and current form, Troy, Danny, Luca, and Brook must surely fancy their chances. Never count out Greg who is only just returning to racing following a lengthy injury break - he has won here twice before and could easily end up doing it again. They'll all have stiff competition in the form of the recently crowned World Cup Champion Amaury Pierron, who has three wins to his name this year and looked incredibly good in the very last race of the season in La Bresse before sliding out in the second-to-last turn in very slippery conditions. The Lenzerheide track is a bit of a mystery for the fast Frenchie, his best result here previously a 14th place in 2015, but he is a different rider altogether in 2018. On the topic of fast Frenchies, Loic Bruni finally looks like has has fully recovered from his injury at the season opener in Croatia and found his speed again, winning in Mont-Sainte-Anne and battling to a very respectable 6th place in the La Bresse mudbath. Loic will be particularly keen to defend his Rainbow Jersey from last year as well, while Loris Vergier should not be excluded from the (long) list of haulers from the Hexagon out to put the Tricolor on the top of the podium once again.

Bruni came oh so close to winning in Lenzerheide in 2015, this major drift in one of the last corners probably dropping him into second at the line.

If there is one man who will have all eyes on him this coming week, it's Aaron Gwin. He has never won here in Lenzerheide before, although he has come very close, but more importantly, he doesn't own a Rainbow Jersey. Fresh off a hand injury and riding a new 29er, he would probably have wished for a less dramatic season leading into this race, but if somebody can turn it on when it counts, it's the all-conquering American.

Up at all the splits, an issue with the rear tire put an end to Gwin's Lenzerheide challenge in 2017. At least he knows he has the pace here.

Because of the way British Cycling runs its selection process, they've somehow managed to not pick Gee for this year's squad, choosing to leave one of their most experienced and more importantly in great current form racers on the sidelines as a substitute. We understand it's a process, but other federations leave their decisions until much later in the season, which seems like a smarter way of doing things. Of course, Team GB will still be a formidable force here, with two riders comfortably in the top ten of the world rankings and several others who could roll the dice and pull off something spectacular. And speaking of spectacular, let's not forget Gee's old GT teammate Martin Maes, the EWS racer who took an incredible win at the last DH World Cup of the season in La Bresse and constitutes a one-man Worlds wrecking crew squad for Belgium.

Two shocks in one shot: Martin winning, and Gee taking second place and not making the Team GB squad.

Continuing down the list of who's who in downhill mountain biking (aka the UCI World Rankings), aside from Troy who we previously mentioned there are quite a few wizards from Oz that could upset the big names - Moir, Lucas, and Fearon are all legitimate threats from down under. Blenki will be keen to return to his early season form, and although he has never done particularly well at Lenzerheide, the track has the potential to suit his style. And let's not forget about Canada eh? Mark Wallace is currently the top ranked Canadian but Finn Iles has been chomping at the bit all season long and getting oh so close to that first elite podium.

Among the elite women, Rachel definitely has the upper hand, both on previous results and current form. It seems like only Tahnee Seagrave has the pace to challenge Rachel at present, but we are talking about World Championships so anything could happen. We know Tahnee will do everything she can to add the elite category Rainbow Jersey to her 2013 Junior World Champs win, and Pompon and Tracey would love nothing more than finishing out the season in style here. And how about EWS dominator Cecile Ravanel for a surprise podium finish? We'd put nothing past the Commencal crusher who has shown she has the pace earlier this year already. One thing not to overlook: there have been more surprise winners and "one-hit-wonders" among the women at Worlds than the men (e.g. Morgane Charre and Miranda Miller), with a less stacked field at the top all it takes is for the top girls to have a crash or an off day to open the door for an unexpected winner. Roll that dice, ladies!

Rachel's incredible 2015-2016 win streak ended with gold at the 2016 World Champs in Val di Sole. Rachel was unable to defend her stripes in 2017 in Cairns due to a broken collarbone, but she is fully healthy and back to full speed for 2018.

In the junior categories, previous performance data at Lenzerheide is obviously harder to come by, so going purely on current form seems to be a better way of arriving at our predictions. Among the junior women, Vali Holl has quite literally been in a class of her own all year, so the title is hers to loose outright. In the junior men's, the battle will be intense and far from a foregone conclusion. Will Kade Edwards make good on the pace he has shown all year and put together a run when it's the most needed, or will Thibaut Daprela turn on the afterburners in the finals to steal the show as he has done so many times before? Can Henry Kerr convert all those second place finishes into a win on the biggest stage of the year, or will Kye A'Hern return to the kind of form that saw him win in Fort William and Leogang? Time will tell!

Kade Edwards taking the time to check his tire pressure on the Lenzerheide finish line drop in 2017. The kids are alright!

2018 Worlds Entries

116 men, 35 women, 73 junior men and 15 junior women will duke it out for top honors in Lenzerheide in 2018:

2018 UCI DH World Championship Entry List

2018 Rule Changes

For 2018, a qualifying round has been introduced, which all riders are required to participate in. The following riders go through to the final from the qualifying round: top-80 men, top-40 women, top-60 junior men, top-15 junior women. The top 20 elite men and top 10 elite women in the last World Cup overall rankings are protected and can ride the finals regardless of their result in the qualifying round (they must however take the start in the qualifying round to be eligible). The start order for the finals is determined by the last published UCI individual ranking with the best rider starting last (not determined by the results of the qualifying round), which means Amaury Pierron and Rachel Atherton will be last down the hill come Sunday.

Previous Lenzerheide World Cup Highlights

2015 (sunny, 3:00 winning time)

Greg Minnaar won the race, Gwin lacked a bit of flow and finished in 8th place. Bruni was on pace but slid wide in the last corner, still managing to take 2nd place. A certain Amaury Pierron was 14th.

Greg on his way to the 2015 win.
Rachel getting rowdy.

In the women's, Rachel had an adventurous week including jumping over a person on the road gap, but in the end she took a convincing, 5 second win.

 

2016 (sunny, 3:05 winning time)

Gwin crashed in qualifying, then threw down a heater race run and sat in the hotseat until all but one competitor remained. Last man down the hill, Danny Hart took the win by 0.09 seconds - signing his first World Cup win ever (5 years after THAT World Champs win). Greg Minnaar was third. In the women's, Rachel beat Tahnee by 0.7 seconds, which was her 11th World Cup win in a row during THAT winning streak.

Danny Hart on his way to the 2016 Lenzerheide win.
Rachel was unbeatable here in Lenzerheide as anywhere else in 2016.

2017 (overnight rain, sunny, 2:57 winning time)

Greg Minnaar beat Troy by just 0.16, with Hart in third. Gwin was up by 1.5 seconds at the splits, but blew his tire off the rim. A certain Finn Iles won the juniors for the second time, which means he clearly feels this track, but it should be noted that he was 12 seconds off the winning time in Elite. Could he be an upset pick in elite this year? Speaking of upsets, Neko Mulally tried using a piece of cardboard to circumvent the local back-protector rules but was turned away at the start by the Swiss officials. Take note kids, that's a long way to travel for a DNS because you refuse to wear the required equipment. (In an unfortunate twist of fate, Neko broke a bone in his hand in La Bresse a week ago, so he won't be racing in Lenzerheide again this year despite making the Team USA selection).

Dark horse bet for 2018? Finn destroyed the Lenzerheide course in 2017 on his way to winning the race and the Junior World Cup overall, could he make a huge step up for his first year in elite?

In the women's category, Myriam Nicole made it back-to-back wins for her 2017 season, beating Rachel here in Lenzerheide by 0.5 seconds.

Greg Minnaar, the ruling king of Lenzerheide on his way to the 2017 win.
Myriam Nicole making sure Rachel would not go 3-for-3 in Lenzerheide World Cups by taking the 2017 win.

There you have it, the scene is set for a showdown of epic proportions. Don't forget to share YOUR thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned to Vital the whole week as the action unfolds. BOOSH!

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