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Downhill

BREAKING ROCKS IN THE HOT SUN

Practice Day at the Lenzerheide World Cup 2016

I’ve been to the Alps on many occasions, but they still just ‘blow me away’… they are such a special place.

Photos: Seb Schieck

The train journey from Zurich airport up to the town of Chur (some 20 minutes by car from Lenzerheide) is nothing short of breath taking. Such mountains, such scale. I felt a mixture of awe, joy and fear looking up to towering peaks all around me as I chugged efficiently along to my destination. But I’m not there to look at the scenery, I’m here to watch a mountainbike race… pure downhill.

Lenzerheide sits at around 5,000 feet (higher than Britain’s biggest mountain) and it first made an appearance on the World Cup circuit last year. At 2.1km long it has a vertical drop of 435m and will take the best riders in the world just over 3 minutes to complete. It is hard to categorise it. Some would call it a ‘bike park’ style of track, but then it doesn’t feel ‘fully’ bike parky to me.

This part of the world is truly stunning

The track is pretty much the same as last year: linking sections of woods, rocks, jumps, and zig zagging multiple bermed turns (some tight and twisty others that wouldn’t look out of place on a motocross track they are so big). The hill has a kind of tiered feel to it, with steep sections that kind of level off leading to even steeper sections. Not quite waves and troughs, but it certainly does get pitched down in many places.

There are about three or four different lines through the rock section near the top of the track. Staying out wide left for the tight following corner is key to carrying speed into the next section. Get this key section wrong and your momentum will be lost before you've even begun! Aaron Gwin skipping on through.
Greg Williamson is having a belter of a season, but conditions here couldn't be further from his native Scotland
Rach looks pinned...as always
Fearon crashed while running in second on race day last year, he'll be after redemption this weekend. Fifth in timed training
Sick Mick completing a great day for the Hannah siblings - third fastest on the day
Greg flew under the radar before his win last year, this time he's right up there in second

And this is a high-speed track, one where grip is at a premium and constantly being searched for. There is grip here, but it is not really ‘confidence inspiring’ grip (just ask Greg Williamson and many others that went down). From the outside looking in it all seems fine, but speaking to riders they talked about the course being awkward, and that there was a fine line when it came to finding traction in the loose turns. For all the wide taping there is seemingly one quick line down the course.

Turning some bad luck on its head, Bernard pulled out a fourth place

There are a few places where decisions can be made, inside lines, etc., but on the whole it is strap in and let go! And I should also mention the change in light as riders go from the bright sunshine on the open sections into the much darker woods. Tricky… especially at such speeds.

Riders are still trying to decide if the triple jump near the bottom of the course is worth the risk or if they are best to go around it into the whooped-out section of mini-moguls that follows. I would say that 99% of people are currently going around it… too mush of a risk?

Then there is the ‘The Plunge’ in the last wooded section. An awkward (that word again) drop that has so far claimed Claudio Caluori on his course preview and both Innes Graham and Hugo Roulx with broken femurs! Not good. Does it need looking at? Jacob Dickson (collarbone and wrist) also crashed near this section (we can’t confirm exactly where at present). Quick recoveries to all those hurt today.

And that was pretty much it. Timed practice went down, but this is really quite a tricky one to gauge. All that can be said is that Aaron Gwin’s 3min 8sec looked to be pretty tasty.

Qualifying Friday.

The new orange lowers look right at home for Rach
Fastest woman today was Tracey Hannah by a massive four seconds
Great to see Pompon back in action. She was ranked too low for timed training so we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see how fast she is
This is such a flat-out section of the track. Brook MacDonald keeping it lively.
Fun is fast - Brosnan was running at hyperspeed all day
Smooth and stylish as always - Brendan Fairclough
Laurie was dead last in timed training today but you can't feel a big result is on his horizon - his race run here last year would have put him 14th in elite
Riders were whipping out this bridge jump all day - one of the advantages of bike parky tracks
We're all out of cow puns but safe to say Peaty was milking it today with cowbells and udders
Just like clockwork - Gwin ticks over another sumptuous performance
There are many lines through this rock garden - Brook MacDonald goes for the charger
... Whereas Bryceland is a bit more delicate
New bike for Brayton today, will it be as much of a brawler as the last one? All we know is that it was fastest through the speed trap today.
Vergier has a cool blue finish on his Demo this weekend. He'll be hoping to prove Leogang wasn't a fluke
Sylvain Cougoureux was the fastest junior on the hill today...
... but Finn Iles will always be a threat on bike parky tracks
Thirion loves it steep but he also normally likes it a bit rougher than this
Still

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