Vancouver Island’s Mark Wallace narrowly missed out on a podium placing at the Val di Sole World Cup downhill race on Saturday, netting an impressive sixth place finish on the infamously steep course outside Trentino, Italy. Two spots back, Finn Iles had his first top-10 finish as an elite racer, claiming eighth.
The race was won by Commencal Vallnord’s Amaury Pierron who, after winning his first ever World Cup at Fort William, has now won an incredibly three consecutive rounds with his victory in Val di Sole. Behind Pierron, young British rider Laurie Greenland (MS Mondraker) finished second, his best result since graduating to the elite category. Danny Hart (Madison Saracen) placed third, just behind Greenland.
In the Women’s elite race the winner of the last World Cup round in Leogang, Rachel Atherton looked to be in control after setting the fastest time down the course by over nine seconds. It would not be two in a row for the once dominant Trek Factory Racing rider though, as Tahnee Seagrave (FMD Racing) stormed back in the final section of the course, erasing a 1.5 second to Atherton to claim her second World Cup win of the year.
With Myriam Nicole missing the Val di Sole round due to an injury sustained Friday, Atherton moves into the World Cup leaders jersey, with Seagrave closing in behind her.
Canadians in Val di Sole World Cup
Mark Wallace (Canyon Factory Racing) was the top Canadian in Val di Sole, netting a big result in sixth. After setting the fastest time in qualifying, first year elite Finn Iles (Specialized Gravity Racing) couldn’t quite find the same pace in finals. The former junior world champion still had a great race, finishing an impressive eighth. Just four races into his elite racing carreer, Iles already claimed his first top-10 result in the incredibly competitive senior category.
Henry Fitzgerald was the final Canadian qualified for the Men’s final. The Norco Factory Racing rider finished 25th in Val di Sole, a big result for Fitzgerald, who has been moving up through the deep elite men’s field all season.
In the Junior race, Pemberton’s Lucas Cruz had a good start before a crash on the steep track sent him sliding down the leader board.
Elite Women – Val di Sole World Cup downhill
After qualifying sixth on a wet, unpredictable course Friday, Rachel Atherton (Trek Factory Racing) moved directly to the front of the race in finals, setting the fastest time by 9 seconds by the bottom of the course. With few riders left in the start hut, it looked like it could be enough for Atherton to claim a second consecutive World Cup victory after her win in Leogang.
Tracey Hannah (Polygon UR) was the next rider to come close to Atherton’s time, consistently riding five seconds back of the Brit down the course before sending the final jump long to close the gap to the race leader to just over three seconds. It was good enough for second on course, with only three riders left to race.
Emilie Siegenthaler (Pivot Factory Racing) was next but, after a strong run under treacherous conditions in qualifying, struggled to up the pace for the drier course. Siegenthaler finished the day in seventh.
Seagrave was next at the top and look fast, but reserved at the top sections of track. It was still enough to keep her within striking distance of Atherton’s time, though. Seagravae was 1.5 seconds back through the fourth and final split, but was gaining time and looking fast. Flying off the final jump, all eyes were on the clock as the FMD Racing rider crossed the line. The lights were green, and Seagrave had bumped Atherton from the hot seat by 0.123 seconds.
The surprise of the qualifying was European champion Monika Hrastnick, who set the fastest time in Friday’s slick conditions. Halfway down the course, Hrastnick was still in touch with the leaders, just a second back from Seagrave’s tie. Hrastnick couldn’t repeat Seagrave’s late race surge to make up the gap, though, and crossed the line third behind the two British riders. Seagrave had her second World Cup win of the year, with Atherton in second.
Elite Men – Val di Sole World Cup downhill
While Finn Iles qualified in second position, the UCI’s new rules for finals start order meant the Canadian was one of the first riders down the course in the live broadcast. Iles looked like he was carrying good speed, but couldn’t match the time of early leader Reece Wilson.
It wasn’t until Wilson’s teammate Thomas Estaque came down the course that Wilson was finally pushed out of the hot seat. Estaque set a blistering time through the tracks upper sections, and looked to be riding visibly faster than other racers through the steepest parts of the track and set a time that would hold for most of the day.
Suffering from a re-injured thumb, Aaron Gwin (YT Mob) was in obvious discomfort as he made his way down the course, looking to earn a handful of points for the World Cup overall title. It was far from his usual pace, but impressive for barely being able to hold on to the bars down a relentlessly steep track.
Mark Wallace was the first rider to push anywhere near Estauqe’s time but, like many riders on Saturday, lost time compared to the French racer in an off-camera section at the top of the course. Wallace road steady, looking smooth on the rough course, to work his way back into the race, finishing second between Wilson and Estaque.
As many of the big names in downhill passed through the start hut, Estaque’s time held strong. It wasn’t until world champion Loic Bruni came down the course that another rider pushed close to Estaque’s times on course. Bruni flew through the first three time checks, building up a 1.2 second advantage. It was all fall apart on a rocky off cambre between sectors three and four, as Bruni was bounced off his line and came off his bike on the rapidly drying course. Bruni picked up his bike to finish his run, but the race had gone on without him.
Looking fast and a little wild, former junior world champion Laurie Greenland was the next rider to get close to Estaque’s split time at the top of the course, despite nearly losing his front end on a sizeable braking bump entering the first berm. The young Brit looked to be riding on a different course than the rest of the racers, finding straight lines down the steepest sections of the course. Greenland held on all the way to the bottom, finally edging out Estaque’s time to sit in the hot seat.
With four riders left at the top of the mountain, Loris Vergier (Santa Cruz Syndicate) looked fast out of the gate, but washed out before getting through the first open section, crashing and ending his run. Even after going down, Vergier carried on to set some of the fastest times through the lower sections of the course, showing he had the pace if he’d been able to stay on his bike.
Vergier’s teammate Luca Shaw was next and, like many riders, lost a huge chunk of time before arriving at the first check. Down three seconds with the race barely started. Riding consistently, Shaw clawed his was back into the race, gaining time back at every intermediary split, to slot into second position behind Greenland.
Only two riders remained: Danny Hart and top qualifier Amaury Pierron. Hart was next out of the gate and stated his intent right out the gate. Hart was the first and only rider to beat Estaque’s time to the first split, and looked to be at home and on form on the steep track. At the final time check Hart was within a tenth of a second of Greenland’s time, but lost momentum through the same tricky final sweeping left hand turn that infamously cost Sam Hill a world championship title, and finished 0.136 seconds behind his fellow Brit.
Pierron was the last man waiting in the start gate, and looking for an improbably third straight win since taking his first World Cup victory at Fort William earlier this season. Pierron’s calm style on the bike was a stark contrast to Hart and Greenland’s frenetic race runs, but it was deceptively fast and by the time he his the second time check he was in touch with the leaders times. Riding smooth, Pierron was never far off, but it wasn’t until the final section of the course that the French rider would make his move. Patience on the long, demanding track paid off, and Pierron flew through the final sector, erasing a 1.2 second deficit to win his third straight World Cup by a narrow, 0.524 second margin.