A bank so steep riders are left hanging off catch netting. Not a berm in sight. Rock, root and earthy loam under tyre. Sam Hill 15 seconds ahead in qualifying…
– Steve Jones flashback to the first event held at Switzerland’s previous World Cup venue
Switzerland. A country of epic vertical proportions, postcard villages and crippling kebab prices. It’s a land full of promise – for mountain biking and World Cup Downhill racing that comes in the form of a track brand new to the international circuit on the side of a monster hill, Switzerland’s first World Cup since 2010 and the big names of Peat and Caluori involved as consultants in its build.
Nothing short of perfection could quench an intense thirst for an introduction to World Cup racing of the sort we saw when Champéry was put on the map in 2007. That race saw Sam Hill essentially pull the pants of the entire World Cup circuit down, around and right over their heads too. It was a fierce course that fell from high in the clouds to a welcoming flat valley via untold numbers of off cambers, drops, savage root and rock sections and near-death experiences of the sort only downhill racing could provide. The race went down in history. Claudio Caluori – yes the wildman from the World Cup course preview videos – was responsible for building that world-changing course, the same (adapted to make it slightly more tame) track that hosted the 2011 World Championships where Danny Hart emphatically won by over ten seconds in the most testing conditions imaginable. Two of the most memorable events ever in the sport.
But let’s get to the point: This ain’t no Champéry. Before we get in trouble though, we need to stand back and reel in our expectations. While walking the track on day one of Lenzerheide World Cup, after the first third of the track we were ready to storm down and go off on a rant. Machine built berms left and right, fixed rock in small enough quantities to be hucked in one and only a vague attempt at cutting in a natural line with a slightly over-zealous opening off camber.
But our grump was not only influenced by the country’s previous World Cup track but also the £60 kebab bill that was only just sinking in. We stood back and reassessed: let’s leave the judgement out until we’ve seen the whole hill.
As the course makes its way down under Lenzerheide’s gondola it takes in all manner of terrains. Mostly man-made, but in fact it turns out that it’s quite a lot better than we’d initially thought. By the foot of the hill the track has ticked off pretty much every obstacle that an ideal modern course could want. Rocks and roots, cambers and berms, high speeds in the open and danger lines in the trees. Jumps aplenty including hucks of true bravery, steep inside lines into dustbowl turns and course taping so wide that lines are infinitely changeable.
It’s man made, yes. But things are still going to be wild here in Lenzerheide and we are excited to see what goes down in practice. Racing lines are likely to be railing around the many bermed turns, but fun lines will be smashing the inside into a dusty oblivion. And with Sam Hill back from injury and looking forward to getting his teeth sunk into the insides we are awaiting quite a show.
Welcome to Lenzerheide World Cup – browse the gallery and see what the world’s best riders are to do battle on.
Photos: Seb Schieck with a splattering by Ben Winder and James McKnight