For race fans, the week preceding the first World Cup of the season is perhaps the most exciting of the year. “Who will be fastest this season?” is the ultimate question, but trying to formulate an answer produces many, many more. Some of them will be answered this weekend in Lourdes when the season gets underway…
When to Watch Lourdes DH World Cup on Red Bull TV
- Mar 27 – Women’s DH Finals – 11.25am BST
- Mar 27 – Men’s DH Finals – 12.45pm BST
- NB: The UCI press release lists the time as being an hour later than shown on Red Bull, but it’s the weekend the clocks change, so maybe someone is confused. Tune in at the times above and you shouldn’t miss anything!
Lourdes: Know Your History
The DH World Cup has visited Lourdes on three previous occasions: 2015 when Emmeline Ragot and Aaron Gwin emerged victorious; 2016 when Rachel Atherton and Gwin took the spoils; and most recently in 2017 with Atherton and Alexander Fayolle on the top step – the latter claiming his only World Cup win in a rain affected race.
Five years on and much has changed. Gwin and Atherton are no longer the dominant forces atop the sport. Gwin hasn’t won since the first round in 2018 and Atherton hasn’t raced since 2019 when she suffered a horrendous achilles injury in Les Gets. Since then, she’s also given birth to her baby daughter and is only eight months post-partum. In their absence, the top step in both races has been visited with much less regularity, with only Loic Bruni showing any real consistency.
Coming into 2022 the favourites in the men’s race were all French and the pre-season has only emphasised this further. There have been two European races of note, one in Tarouca, Portugal; the other in Brioude, France. Amaury Pierron took the win in Tarouca and won seeding in Brioude before pulling out with a bug. “He’s playing a different game to everyone else” was a comment from a fellow racer in Tarouca. Watching from the sidelines on Sunday in Brioude, he saw his compatriot Loris Vergier take the win. 2020 and 2021 French National Champion Benoit Coulanges was knocking on the door at both events with a third and a second place and Thibaut Daprela was looking fast in Tarouca before flatting. The only flying Frenchman who has looked a little off the pace is Loic Bruni. Having finished last season with such a display of strength with two seconds and a first and claiming the overall it wasn’t really a surprise to see Bruni 16th in Tarouca. He often starts slow, but we all know what he is capable of and we all know that he’ll have the best set up bike in the paddock. Bruni has unfinished business in Lourdes too, having crashed out close to the bottom in 2016 with everything green.
In the States, Dakotah Norton took the win at the first US National in Tennessee, and down under Connor Fearon took the Australian National Title in a race where Troy Brosnan crashed, breaking his ankle which means he’ll miss the season opener.
We’re still unsure if Rachel Atherton will line up in Lourdes. If she does, it will be interesting to see where she fits in. The women’s field has become stronger and deeper in her absence and the favourites for this weekend, Myriam Nicole and Vali Hoell, are already riding at a similar level to Rachel at her peak. In the pre-season race in Tarouca, Portugal, Nicole took the win with a 3:00, just 12% slower than men’s race winner Amaury Pierron. At her peak Rachel was pushing 10%. Hoell wasn’t far behind Nicole in Tarouca, nor was she far behind Camille Balanche in Brioude, and it’s going to be the most interesting battle this season.
Lourdes DH World Cup: Track Analysis
The track in Lourdes is steep and technical, a mix of clay and limestone. Almost straight out of the gate riders are greeted by ‘The Wall’, an incredibly steep 50m rock garden and the scene of much carnage in previous years. From there, it’s a hard charge to the bottom with the addition of some moto whoops for a bit of extra spice. It’s a sub 3-minute track so times will be tight.
The weather could once again play a hugely important part. As Jack Reading discussed in the latest episode of the Making Up The Numbers podcast, the last thing riders want is rain showers. On dry tyres with a little rain ‘The Wall’ becomes unrideable at pace. Spikes will help you here, but if it’s dry further down the track where there’s tree canopy, those same spikes won’t be your friends in the rocks. Dry and stay dry, or wet and stay wet please. The forecast is currently looking like it will be a dry race, but it’s March in the foothills of the Pyrenees so that could change in an instant.
Also, spare a though for those riders in ‘B’ practice. For some of them their first World Cup experience will be stepping onto a cold funicular pre 08:00 to ride a track that will be sketchy with morning dew and dark in the woods.
Who will win at Lourdes?
The first race of the season, in March, on a track the World Cup hasn’t visited for 5 years is a hard one to predict. In the men’s anything could happen. Some riders chasing the overall might treat this as a prequel to the season, happy to walk away with a Top 15 result and all body parts intact. With an eight week gap before the next round in Fort William, others could decide to roll the dice knowing there’s time to patch themselves up if they don’t roll a hard six. On home soil it’s hard to see anything other than a French victory. In fact, an all-French men’s podium is probably around similar odds as a non-French winner.
Expect Amaury Pierron and Thibaut Daprela to come out firing, setting the early pace in practice. Coulanges, Vergier and Bruni to be with them by finals, if all five make it to finals. Mark Wallace could be a good podium bet if the conditions turn nasty. The Canadian lives for steep and technical terrain and is used to changeable conditions in Vancouver Island. Similarly, Finn Isles could be a solid outside bet. Danny Hart has done well here too. He had a solid first season on Cube, finishing 9th in the overall but he didn’t manage a podium and he’ll be keen to put that right. Neither did 2020 World Cup Champion Matt Walker – hear him talk about his offseason on the podcast mentioned above – and Reece Wilson performs best on steep tracks in loose conditions, so could do well.
Will Loic Bruni find absolution in Lourdes? I’m going to say no and pick Loris Vergier if it’s dry, Reece if it’s wet.
Myriam Nicole is the fastest woman on the planet at the moment and if it stays dry should take the win. Hoell won’t be far behind and her technical ability on the bike will be favourable if conditions change. This could quite easily be Balanche’s weekend though. She rides well on steep, technical tracks and is a consistent finisher. If Nicole and Hoell push that little bit too hard chasing the win, slow (relatively) and steady (it will be anything but) could win the race.
Nicole to win.
Let us know who you think will win in the comments…
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