Milestone: Lenzerheide World Cup Finals
Photos by Seb Schieck (action/general) and Ben Winder (general)
Words by James McKnight
What a wild week of chaos and calm. Switzerland’s pristine mountains warmly welcomed the World Cup circus to an all-new venue high in the hills, while its course was rather less inviting.
While the track appeared tame at first, the steep gradient and high speeds soon saw to tearing its surface to pieces and providing one rough mutha. Holes and rocks exposed top to bottom, dust filled berms blowing out and opening new lines with nearly every rider. Deathly hucks both machine- and rider-created led to Lenzerheide firmly securing itself a place in downhill’s heart.
There were plenty of dramatic events at Lenzerheide, namely Greg Minnaar’s win and step into the record books as the rider with the most male World Cup DH victories of all time (18). With his podium presence in the sixties it is hard to comprehend Minnaar’s quiet domination of the series in his decade-and-a-half of racing World Cups. The South African is one cool character, and that showed in his run too – calm out of the start gate, smooth in the turns and building it up towards the foot of the hill. With two World Cup victories already this year Minnaar also stepped into third place in the overall.
But the other big story of the men’s category was that of young Devinci rider Dean Lucas seriously upping his game with a sensational run that saw him eventually settle into third place. A surprise beyond words for the Australian and truly one of the most notable performances of the series so far. He said a smooth run equated to a good time, and with less than two seconds between him and the most successful World Cup racer of all time we think we are safe in saying he was correct. Bravo.
One mistake could spell disaster here, as Aaron Gwin’s uncharacteristically scrappy run to eighth place or the fact that the entire 45 fastest men were within 10 seconds demonstrated. And yet the remainder of the top five was filled with familiar faces, all very much happy to be up there at the end of what was a sketchy affair. Gee Atherton stepped it up and held it clean for a fifth place with Troy Brosnan in fourth, while Loic Bruni – the gent of downhill racing – was perfectly happy to miss out on his first win and finish second to Minnaar.
As for the women’s category, Rachel Atherton once again asserted her dominance of the series with a five-second lead and her 23rd World Cup win, plus another opportunity to get a selfie on the podium. Some riders were burnt by the track – namely Frenchwoman Marine Cabirou who crashed hard within sight of the finish and limped it home, only to later be stretchered out with a broken vertebra. We wish her the best of luck with recovery. Manon Carpenter and Tracey Hannah brought back some form and finished second and third respectively, both absolutely buzzing with their results. France’s Morgane Charre was also super stoked to be right up to speed and into fourth. First-place qualifier Emmeline Ragot had the pace of Atherton but couldn’t hold it together and went down in the dust, phenomenally still finishing in the top five.
And of course to the Junior category, the stars of the future. While series leader Andrew Crimmins took a brave move to ride with a reported chipped elbow, his second-place finish commendable.Alex Marin Trillo has also proved to be a force in the Junior category this year, and stepping onto the podium in third once again proved that. But let’s take nothing away from Laurie Greenland here. The Brit has been itching for a win all year and has been on the gas at every round, his five-second (almost) win here in Lenzerheide testament to his immense bike skills.
But it wasn’t all sunshine and smiles at Lenzerheide. There were certain factors that we have so far omitted from our reports that shouldn’t really go without mention. Namely the clear division between the elite and the masses. Pit areas were spread around town with the big rigs of DH World Cup Racing 2015 on proud display around the finish line and the lesser-ones forced into several scrappy car parks hidden from public view on the outskirts of town. Some teams kicked up enough of a fuss for the organisation to find some space up their sleeves. We couldn’t help but think this was perhaps a sign of things to come. Call it pure speculation, but a hot breeze after the carnage of racing brought signs of something big in the pipeline, a dark cloud moving in that could spell the end for the less fortunate classes within this sport.
Lenzerheide was a truly brilliant event, one of high drama and spectacle that will be noted in the sport’s history books and referred to forever. The party raged wild into the night with the gods of the sport rubbing shoulders and sharing beers with their peers, with their managers, and above all with their fans. That is what downhill mountain bike racing is all about.
Here’s to World Cup racing and its array of characters, its melting pot of talent, its acceptance of all. Long may it remain that way.
Photos by Seb Schieck and Ben Winder