The opening three rounds have seen high podium turnover in the men’s and the usual British – French domination in women’s.
The trucks rattle into Lenzerheide with missing parts, injured performers and a South African maestro looking to prevent Specialized from winning another downhill title, only their second since the series began. They have their man Aaron Gwin in a commanding position at the top of the leader board, but apart from the fearsome star American racer and the return of Minnaar, its all still looking a bit shaky as we move to the half way stage. Many are simply hanging in.
God Vegas opened the season in classis style on an awesome hill. The champion elect unexpectedly got caught by a fistful of Pyrennean in the qualification as a whole bunch of brits started slinging haymakers to kick 2015 off. Lourdes was a stunning season opener, with five out of ten of the final top ten from UK territory in the men’s as Gwin hands out a four second pasting to the opposition firing a serious warning that he’s after it.
In the women’s Emmeline Ragot has switched from French to Spanish hardware for this season and began with a dream debut on home turf. Reigning champion Manon Carpenter began tidily enough but what was to follow for the Welshy was the stuff of nightmares. Crashing, out side the tapes, you name it Carpenter has been involved fully. Rachel Atherton tucked into second at Lourdes but its now heading on two months since the GT star has lost a race. After this weekend’s British series malarkey where she blitzed everyone by thirteen seconds it looks increasingly unlikely.
But anything can happen. As 2014 proved.
As much as a classic season of two half’s appears seems to be unlikely at this moment, that’s exactly what happened last year. Back then Gwin was the only rider to keep the podiums ticking over after three rounds, one of the few seasons in which only one rider achieved this. But after his flat tyre in Leogang and the major rise in Brycleand confidence, the season changed direction, it was one that got away from him even though he pressed hard. So far Gwin has been the only top racer to show any high level consistency.
This season has already began with fifteen men’s podium spaces filled by twelve riders. What does this tell us? Well the last four years have seen on average 13-14 riders fill podium places for the whole season. This comes after a long period of much lower numbers of different riders filling those places. This could mean there is more pressure, but a deeper talent base at races. A large number of riders visiting the podium was also characteristic of the 1990’s.
Where those strong British starters have gone to god only knows but hey there’s a long way to go and the likes of Danny Hart and Mike Jones will be keen to nail down a first win, both having come so close. Concerning the very top spot we saw two newcomers to the highest place on the podium last season – Troy Brosnan and Josh Bryceland, the year before that in 2013 we had Remi Thirion, in 2012 Stevie Smith and Brook MacDonald and only in 2011 can you believe it Aaron Gwin. Surely there will be another name added top that list this season? Money seems to be on Loic Bruni to finally hit his target but he’s a bit at sixes and sevens at the minute. Bruni aims to become only the second Frenchman ever to win the series.
Rachel has now won 22 world cup races, the most successful British racer ever, she is very much on target for another series win. She’s now halfway to Chausson’s record of 41 world cup wins – yes that’s correct it wasn’t a spelling mistake for a change. But its much tighter in the women’s than the men’s which is quite surprising. Rachel leads by less than a hundred points having only had one mediocre run at Fort William qualis. Compare that to Gwin who has almost a two hundred point lead having dsq’s Lourdes quails.
In the juniors Trek’s Laurie Greeland is in a king size scrap with Andrew Crimmins as Kona suddenly have two major forces in world cup racing. Not since Fabien Barel took it to the world in 04 and 05 has the North American brand been in such a strong position.
So where will the mens title go? World cup history shows that on only two occasions has the eventual winner failed to podium more than twice – Herin in 97 and Minnaar in 2001. And just to make it clear nobody has ever won the men’s title without winning a race. Bruni could well break that tradition but it would take some horrific bad luck given the Gwin’s staggering form. He really is an incredible racer. Gwin is now chasing win number 13 at 27 years old and also has an eye on joining Peaty and Minnaar on three series titles. He’ll probably be thinking of world championship gold also no doubt. His first.
What’s on the cards for Minnaar? He could become the most successful all time race winner. Four times series runner up in the past seven years since he last took the tile in Schladming 08, another title would still leave him one behind Nico Vouilloz on series wins. But eighteen world cup wins is surely on his list of ‘things to do in 2015’. Minnaar really does take the breathe away when it comes to racing having featured in the series top three at the end of the season on nine occasions. He’ll be looking to captitalise on any Gwin mistakes as the younger stars work out just what it takes to string together consistent rides and elusive wins.
With a fresh track and clean lines here in Lenzerheide, its all about who can get upto speed the quickest, no it’s not a Meribel or Val Di Sole technical classic but it its all to play for and looks set to be a crunching race.
1. Rachel Atherton 670 points
2. Emmeline Ragot 585
3. Tahnee Seagrave 446
4. Tracey Hannah 385
5. Manon Carpenter 334
1. Aaron Gwin 624
2. Loic Bruni 435
3. Greg Minnaar 413
4. Troy Brosnan 365
5. Remi Thirion 339