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DHI Masters World Championships 2016

No let-up at oldies Worlds Val Di Sole 2016

DHI Masters World Championships Val Di Sole

By:Steven Jones Images: Victor Lucas

A nonchalant get-together of old duffers rolling out some laps in the woods it was not. For many a fervent attack of one of the most iconic tracks in downhill was an elementary requirement and every bit as committed as a pro event. But that was after three days of deciphering the code of line and flow on a track that takes no prisoners and spits out weakness. There is simply no let-up here.

DHI Masters Worlds in Val Di Sole was intense and atmospheric, the perfect antipasti to the pro race that takes place this weekend. It used pretty much the same line, a cruel mix of rock and root that becomes submerged in dust once practice has ripped the hill apart into an ever more intoxicating challenge as the days went by. By the weekend it’ll be in fine fettle for the pros’ race.

Featuring more than 60 corners the track offers up multiple line choices, each which lead to different entry and exit strategies – identifying the optimum becomes a key factor in taming the hill. Not that it can ever be fully amenable – avoiding the wildness gives the body a break: the straight line option slows the clock down. Complexity Val Di Sole (VDS) has in abundance. And that’s before you talk tyre choice.

Another night. Another track walk. Rowan Sorrell on the line.

And so a spirited gathering of dirt trackers filled the pits, the fields and the woods. They came from far and wide; Australia, the Philippines, Brazil, many in search of the rainbow jersey, some to hook up with old comrades. National champions from all over the globe taking on ex-pros, former World Champions and also Corrado Herin, the 1997 World Cup downhill champion flying the Italian flag, the flag of Aosta and that of his Black Arrows team. Fifty years old and still as wild as he ever has been. The Italian was truly inspired, his result will simply inspire.

Corrado Herin – not just a winner by a huge margin in the 50-54 cat, but one of the fastest times on the hill overall for the ’97 World Cup Champion

It’s a sign of a sport reaching the mature stage of its cycle that riders such as Corrado and Tommy Misser, former World Cup winners, now race the DHI Masters worlds. The event has changed in the 20 years that it has offered places for those over 30. The standalone event is very much a highlight UCI event on a proper race track.

A truly international field - these boys came all the way from the Philippines

In as much as the track is challenging technically, it’s far from the impossible task that it can sometimes be described as. Its toughness is in the physicality: a four-minute arm wrestle. And therein lies part of the VDS mystery, how to limit the beating which the body takes over the four-day cycle of training and race runs?

Stencel from Wardell. The Czech rider spent most of the week saving energy. Wise strategy.

A truly international field, it was the Italians who figured strongest in the classifications. But a cosmopolitan line-up of winners, with Czech racer Rostislav Stencel fighting it out with Britain’s Dave Wardell and New Zealander Nathan Rankin. Wardell, a pillar of British and World Cup downhill for almost two decades who was beaten into 2nd at Worlds ’99 in Are as a junior, while for Rankin it was 20 years since his junior appearance at Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland.

Ireland’s Michael Cowan was pushing the local Paolo Alleva in his class, along with Andrew Titley and Chris Whitfield (who also featured as one of GB’s top racers back in the Swiss Worlds on a prototype Orange bike). Jason Carpenter (Manon’s dad) was only a few seconds off podium in his class won by Spaniard Ramon Figueras Bernades.

Michael Cowan 3rd – a superb result in 40-45; Andrew Titley 5th

The Italians dominated my class (50-54), and it too was full of characters: Jean Pierre Bruni and Claude Vergier just some of the names I’m sure you’ll recognise. In it too a man that has represented Britain incredibly well in previous years: former World Champion Alastair Maclennan, 5th on the day but carrying a recent injury.

Swiss racer Benoit Fellay took the 55-59 and in the 60-64 class a brand new face showed up, another Swiss rider, ex Paris Dakar racer Andreas Brunner in his first ever downhill race. This event has many such stories of bravery, madness and skill. Giovanna Bonazzi, who won pro women Worlds in 1993 in Metabief with names such as Missy Giove and Leigh Donovan, made a return to racing after last competing in Are 1999.

Visualisation from Sorrell and Carpenter. Oh yes this race has it all

The banter was clearly off the charts for this one with tales of woe, broken bikes, bodies and derision playing centre stage as well as putting in punches from the side. Camaraderie, personal battles, settling old scores, this race had it all.

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