World Champs is the perfect microcosm of the sport of DH. A week of hype and custom paint jobs ending with one race run to win it all. One race that means you get to wear the infamous jersey for a year and the 5 stripes on your collar and cuffs for eternity.
All photos: Red Bull Content Pool
With that level of success comes great pressure and only a few can handle it. Since its inception in 1990 only 15 male riders have become World Champion. Of those lining up this weekend only 3 have worn the stripes, Greg Minnaar (Champion in 2003, 2012, 2013, 2021), Danny Hart (2011, 2016) and Loic Bruni (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019). 2020 winner Reece Wilson is missing through injury although announced yesterday that he’s back on the bike and will be at the final round of the World Cup in Val Di Sole next week
It’s a race that the French specialise in. In the Men’s, between them Francois Gachet, Nicolas Vouilloz, Fabien Barel and the aforementioned Bruni have 14 Gold Medals. The Brits are next with 6, then the US (who’s last winner was Myles Rockwell in 2000) and South Africa (all Minnaar) on 4.
In the women’s race the stats are tremendously similar. France, with Anne-Caroline Chausson, Sabrina Jonnier, Myriam Nicole, Emmeline Ragot and Morgan Charre have 16 golds and the Brits are second again with 7 thanks to Rachel Atherton, Tracy Moseley and Manon Carpenter. Of the women lining up this year only Nicole and Camille Balanche have won the title previously.
The French team will be huge this week, they’ll probably have more people spotting lines than some teams have in total. On home soil they’re the favourites and they have the strongest team by a considerable distance. Amaury Pierron has dominated this season in a way we haven’t seen since Aaron Gwin was in his prime back in the early to mid teens. Loic Bruni is the man for the big occasion. Loris Vergier has won a World Cup this season and after qualifying fastest for that race in Andorra proved that he can handle the pressure. French National Champion Benoit Coulanges has been there or there abouts for the past 3 seasons and took Silver at last year’s Worlds and then there’s Daprela, the wild card who has spent this season trying to tame that wild side. In the Women’s of course they have 2021 World Champion Nicole who is one of only a handful of women who can take the title.
What about the Brits then? Well, it’s a strong team with Ethan Craik, Laurie Greenland, Danny Hart, Charlie Hatton, Bernard Kerr, Jamie Edmondson and Greg Williamson in the Men’s race. With the absence of Matt Walker though there’s probably only Greenland, Hart and Kerr who will challenge for the win but there can only be one winner and World Champs is about more than just that, which we’ll come on to shortly. In the Women’s race we have Louise Ferguson, Stacey Fisher, Mikayla Parton and KJ Sharp. Tahnee Seagrave was selected but is still absent with concussion.
Outside of the French and the Brits who else could win the Men’s race? Well, not only does Greg Minnaar have 4 Gold Medals, he also has 4 Silver and 3 Bronze. If he was a nation he’d rank fourth behind France, Great Britain and the USA. He’s the current World Champion and we know never to count him out. Finn Iles took his maiden World Cup victory in Mont Sainte Anne just a few weeks ago and outside of Pierron he’s been the outstanding rider this season. Australia’s Troy Brosnan took bronze last year and third in Mont Sainte Anne and can never be counted out. Andreas Kolb is having an amazing season, US National Champ Dakotah Norton is capable of a winning run as is Spain’s Angel Suarez-Alonso and could Ireland’s Ronan Dunne be an outside bet for a medal?
One race the Irish won’t be winning is the Elite Women’s with no female athletes entered for either the DH or XC despite National Champions Meghan Flanagan and Caoimhe May being keen to take part. Flanagan was initially told this was due to funding but had already booked and paid for the trip herself so all she needed Cycling Ireland to do was enter her. Then she was told it was down to not meeting the criteria. Quite how the National Champion of any country can’t make the criteria for Worlds is beyond me. Whether you can potentially win or not you’re the best that country has to offer and you should be there, it’s a festival of cycling. Obviously, the criteria isn’t available to view and if it’s down to World Cup performances doesn’t appear to have been applied to the men’s team.
Who are the favourites for the Women’s race then? Well, there’s Nicole obviously. Camille Balanche broke her collarbone in Mont Sainte Anne but is heading to Les Gets to try, surely it’s too soon though? She’s leading the overall ahead of the final round next weekend. Austria’s Vali Hoell has won 2 of the last 3 World Cups, Germany’s Nina Hoffmann has a World Cup victory this season and Eleonora Farina has had a great run of podiums.
So, what about previous winners on this track? Well, despite Les Gets hosting multiple World Cups, there’s only been one race held on this track which was last year and it was rain affected. That shouldn’t diminish Thibaut Daprela’s victory, it was a great ride but the best placed finisher of the top 10 seeds was Bernard Kerr who finished sixteenth. Tahnee Seagrave took the win in the Women’s race (not weather affected) with Nicole second and Balanche third.
The track looks like a mix of that track with some fresh sections. There’s a 22 minute preview video here…
The weather was a factor last year and given it’s in the mountains there’s always the risk of a storm. Thunderstorms are forecast for Saturday which could make things really interesting but let’s just hope it doesn’t ruin the race.
In Junior Men current World Champion Jackson Goldstone will be the favourite but Team GB have a great chance with 2021 Silver Medallist Jordan Williams leading the charge alongside Dom Platt, Jack Piercy, Douglas Goodwill, Toby Driscoll and William Brodie. Luca Thurlow was also selected but unfortunately broke his collarbone earlier this week https://www.instagram.com/p/ChhLTBCsskX/
Similarly in Junior Women Phoebe Gale is one of the favourites with Aimi Kenyon and Bethany McCully alongside her on Team GB. Current World Champion Izabela Yankova is back to defend her title but Canada’s Gracey Hemstreet and Gale are the ones to watch.
There’s a couple of weird things that happen at Worlds and nowhere else. The first thing is that the riders have an extra day of practice between seeding and race. The second is that seeding doesn’t actually count for anything, riders leave the start hut in order of their UCI ranking.
Tuesday – Track Walk
Wednesday – Practice
Thursday – ‘Seeding’
Friday – Practice
Saturday – Race
1. At the ripe old age of 40, can Minnaar do it again? No one thought he would win in 2021 and we know to never count him out.
2. With 2 podium World Cup finishes this season Aaron Gwin is getting back to his best. Could the American take the title that has alluded him for all these years?
3. Outsiders have delivered the run of their life to take the title in the Women’s race Morgane Charre in 2012, Miranda Miller in 2017 and to some extent Camille Balanche in 2020. Could an outsider take the crown?
4. The great unknown… What part will the weather play?
5. Could Team GB take both Junior titles?
It’s on Red Bull for UK residents: https://www.redbull.com/int-en/events/uci-mountain-bike-world-championships-en
Let’s have your predictions in the comments below…
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