Lenzerheide DH World Cup Round 4 – Race Report (Contains spoilers, obviously!)

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All photos credit Red Bull Content Pool

How do you turn a ‘bike parky’ race track into something much better? Well, it turns out it doesn’t take that much for a successful transformation. Add in some fresh new sections with a few roots for good measure and tape them wide so there’s lots of line choice; that’s it. It’s never going to be a classic track like Val di Sole or Mont Sainte Anne but the 2022 incarnation of Lenzerheide was the best we’ve seen.

Jackson Goldstone eclipsing the sun

Racing was still tight though. In Junior Men, Jackson Goldstone took the win with a time that would’ve been good enough for seventh in Elite Men. You’d think that might mean he’d finish well clear of the opposition but Jordan Williams was up at the first 2 splits before hitting a tree with his little finger. He still held on (pun intended) for third and crossed the line just 1.6 seconds back on the Canadian. Separating them was Kiwi Lachlan Stevens-McNab. In Junior Women, Canada’s Gracey Hemstreet took her third win from four races, Phoebe Gale took her third second place from four races and Jenna Hastings took her first third place of the season.

Would Loic Bruni race this weekend?

Before a pedal had turned on race day the Elite Women’s category was generating more questions than answers. Could Series Leader Camille Balanche maintain the near 5 second advantage she generated in qualification – a huge margin on a track where the entire men’s field of 60 riders were separated by under 10 seconds? How would the rest of the field respond? Rachel Atherton surprised everyone by announcing she was making her long awaited comeback, what could she do? Vali Hoell crashed in qualifying after going fastest at the first split, was she on the same pace as Balanche?

Not a bad place for a bike race! Monika Hrastnick attacks the rocks at the top of the track

The early running was set by Anna Newkirk. The US rider was unfortunate to have Vali in her category for both her Junior seasons. At any other point in the last 10 years she would’ve won a lot more races, but she’s now starting to make a name for herself in the Elite ranks. Jess Blewit pipped her by 0.016. Nina Hoffmann, the only woman to beat Balanche at the World Cups this season was up by 3.8 at split 1 before a rear puncture blighted her progress. Mille Johnset went fastest by 1.1 but, the level went up a notch when Rachel Atherton entered the fray.

The familiar sight of Rachel Atherton getting in the zone

With 39 World Cup wins to her name, the 5-time World Champion was back on the track where at the 2018 World Championships she produced the greatest women’s race run of all time, beating second place Tahnee Seagrave by nearly 10 seconds and finishing just circa 10% back on Men’s race winner Loic Bruni. After a 3 year absence it’s not quite the old Rachel but she still goes fastest by 2.8. She’s clearly loving being back at the races and remains only 2 wins off Anne-Caroline Chausson’s all time World Cup record, who’d bet against her taking that?

Same story, different weekend for Vali Hoell

Next up is the woman tipped to replace Atherton at the top of the sport, the aforementioned Vali Hoell. She rides just as aggressively as the old Rachel did. 2.7 up at first split but a crash sees her 3.3 back at split 2. This just seems to anger her though and she’s green by 3.5 at split 4 and it’s 4.4 seconds by the time she crosses the line. Vero Widman had a clean run but the pace is nowhere near that of Hoell. Eleonora Farina showed phenomenal speed, taking different lines and keeping the bike upright she goes green by nearly 3 seconds. 

Eleonora Farina with a great run for third

Three to go. European Champion Monika Hrastnick rode aggressively and was neck and neck with Farina all the way down but crossed the line 1.7 back. At this point no one had gone faster than Cami’s qualifying time of 3:18; 2021 winner Myriam Nicole would soon see to that though. With a run that’s visibly faster than everyone else, she crosses the line in 3:11, an 8.4 second advantage. Wow! Incredible racing!

Camille Balanche sends the drop into the arena

Balanche, on home soil, looked a bit tight. Maybe it was the extra pressure but it wasn’t a clean run. Back on Nicole all the way down, she crosses the line 4.4 seconds behind which is still good enough for second place and she retains the lead in the Series. Over to the men…

A resurgent Aaron Gwin on the motorway

When forty seventh ranked qualifier Tuhoto-Ariki Pene went nearly a second quicker than Amaury Pierron’s fastest qualifying time, all signs pointed towards it being a quick race. Pene remained in the hotseat for quite some time though and he would end up thirteenth, a great result for the young Kiwi. The first man to replace him was a resurgent Aaron Gwin. Show the Californian a dusty trail and he’ll show you how to ride down it quickly. 

Amaury Pierron scrubs the 8m drop into the finish arena

Straight after Gwin though came a glut of protected riders, some of the biggest names in the sport. The first of them was Loic Bruni. After breaking his collarbone in Fort William, we weren’t sure if Bruni would be riding this weekend and when he rolled out of the gate and straight off the track in qualifying, there was an even bigger debate about his participation on race day. As previously mentioned though he became World Champion in Lenzerheide in 2018 so it’s a track he likes. Despite some soreness after his first few days back on a DH bike, he crosses the line just 1.9 back, riding a soft set up to help his shoulders absorb some of the hits. 

Greg Minnaar’s crew were in Lenzerheide this weekend which usually means that he turns it on…

Laurie Greenland is the first rider to pull a completely different line when exiting the woods for the final time. Greenland isn’t at his best this weekend though, finishing 2.8 back. Danny Hart is on the edge all the way down, doubling the gap coming out of the woods he’s flying. 0.2 back on Gwin at split 4 and ahead briefly at one stage. Could he? No! He crosses the line 0.3 back. 

Sixth place for Matt Walker this weekend retaining his second place in the overall

Troy Brosnan is lacking confidence after missing the start of the season and crosses the line in seventh. Angel Suarez is coming off a career best third at the last round and goes green by nearly as second at split 2 but hits a tree soon after. Finn Iles rides beautifully. Green by 0.5 at split 2 and from there he really puts the hammer down. Looking stylish on the same line as Laurie exiting the woods he’s 2.3 up at split 4, extending to 2.5 by the time he reaches the bottom; it could be the winning run!

Finn Iles got his bars lower than anyone else this weekend

The very next rider, Greg Minnaar is 0.8 up at split 3 though and carrying great speed. He’s also on ‘the Greenland line’ before getting hung up in a turn and crossing the line 0.3 back in second place.

We’ve got 1. Finn Iles 2. Greg Minnaar 3. Aaron Gwin 4. Danny Hart and there’s still 17 riders to go!

It wouldn’t be Lenzerheide without a pan shot! Benoit Coulanges racking up another podium

As you might expect there’s a bit of a lull. Those top riders are top riders because more often than not they turn it on on race day. Charlie Hatton gets close crossing the line 1.8 back, Thibaut Daprela goes into fifth but it’s not until Matt Walker with just seven riders to go that things really start to hot up. Walker crosses the line in third, 1.4 back. European Champion Andreas Kolb is green by circa 0.5 at the first 3 splits but Finn had such a good bottom section that he’s red by 0.3 when he crosses the line. 5 to go! Luca Shaw has a huge crash in the woods. Benoit Coulanges looks fast and smooth; a little too fast on the motorway, massively overjumping one of the jumps and crossing the line in fourth. 

Back-to-back podiums for new European Champion, Andreas Kolb

The next rider in the start gate is Loris Vergier. Vergier is an incredibly precise rider which is exactly how you need to ride ‘bike parky’ tracks so he’s a real threat. He overshoots the same jump as Coulanges though and loses a little bit on Iles all the way down. Dakotah Norton is up by a second at split 3 before sliding out on the wooden road gap ramp, ending his charge.

Dakotah Norton entertaining the crowd fun the finish arena

Which means there’s just one man between Finn Iles and his first World Cup win, series leader Amaury Pierron. The ground shaker is up by 0.2 at split 2 and carrying good speed. He extends that to 1.3 at split 3 and manages to match Iles from there down, claiming his third victory from 4 starts this season!

Amaury’s on another level at the moment

Elite Women

1. Myriam Nicole: 3:11.751
2. Camille Balanche: 3:16.170
3. Eleonora Farina: 3:20.184
4. Monika Hrastnik: 3:21.979
5. Vali Hoell: 3:22.963

Elite Women’s Top 3

Elite Men

1. Amaury Pierron: 2:47.153
2. Finn Iles: 2:48.555
3. Greg Minnaar: 2:48.858
4. Andreas Kolb: 2:48.865
5. Benoit Coulanges: 2:49.907

Elite Men’s podium

A fantastic weekend for Commencal, taking the win in both Elite races and a great weekend for Atherton Bikes with Rachel finishing sixth at her first race in 3 years, Charlie Hatton seventh and Andreas Kolb claiming back-to-back podiums with fourth. Perhaps the greatest achievement of all though might be Greg Minnaar standing on a World Cup podium at 40 years of age.

The mirror man Greg Minnaar is back on a World Cup podium

On to Andorra next weekend for Round 5…

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