STARING FEAR IN THE FACE - Val di Sole World Cup Downhill Photos and Racer Interviews

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You know how there's always that young, super handsome, athletic, kind of cage-fightery dude? He trains really hard, isn't scared of anything, has just the right discreet-but-meaningful tattoos yet still has a tidy, disciplined polish about him? He's super gnarly, could kill you with 3 or 4 punches, but you admire him and almost feel lucky when he's around because he never wavers and is a specimen of efficiency.

Then, like 13 years go by and you haven't seen that cage-fightery dude, until one day, you come face-to-face with him at an intervention. The man who had it all together now looks puffy and swollen from steroid abuse, he curses way too much for any real social interaction, has at least one tattoo on his face, which is scarred and pockmarked from many a crusty physical altercation in the streets. His demeanor is now that of a rabid pit bull and instead of feeling lucky to be around him, all you want to do is run and get the f&*k out of the room because his skin is stretched paper-thin as veins are uncomfortably forced to the surface by unnaturally bloated biceps. But you can't leave. You have to stay, for his well-being and possibly yours; you have to face this bro-turned-psycho head-on. Thankfully you have others in the room who also know this creature, so you're not alone. While there is strength in numbers, it will ultimately come down to you against the pit bull. Do you reason with him? Do you go down swinging wildly to the bitter end or do you close your eyes and get knocked out while confronting him about his demons?

This is pretty much what World Cup DH racers faced today in Val di Sole. The once aggressive, predictable and oh-so-thrilling-to-be-around friend is now ready to kill them. The steep, gnarly, but manageable track that could kill them in 3 or 4 punches has lost its disciplined polish and is nothing but a shell of its former self; a slippery, root-infested dice-roll every run. Did the racers try to survive with reason, go down swinging to the bitter end or close their eyes to get knocked out? Dig in and find out.

The audio interviews are in this slideshow, like normal, with their assigned photo. Some interviews are pretty long. If you'd prefer to listen to them in the background, view the show in "one page" format (using the link in the upper left above), visit this page, press play and come back to cruise the photos. You can also listen to the interviews in our podcast channel on your favorite podcast app. Just search for "Vital MTB" and it should show up.

Thanks to Sven Martin, @maddogboris, Dan Hearn and Lee Trumpore for the hard-charging action and reporting.

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