Words by Alan Milway
After a few weeks' break, the World Cup returns to Val di Sole - and what a venue! A track that has seen some amazing racing, staggering individual performances and is right up there as one of the hardest tracks on the circuit, we should be in for a treat!
The term ‘man's track’ might seem sexist in this day and age, but what I mean by this is that it is a true separator. You need skills, strength and savvy to succeed and whereas times may be close at other tracks, this track opens up the time gaps somewhat as lines develop and the winning run involves huge risk to conquer the rough and steep terrain.
The first visit to this track was back in 2008. Danny Hart, who I was coaching at the time, was a Junior and competing against the likes of Bryceland, Dale, Thirion, Macdonald etc. I rode my motorbike across Italy and over the Alps into the Valley of the Sun on an epic journey and was immediately excited about the venue and blown away by the racing we witnessed that day that was also nothing short of epic:
Josh won Juniors by over 7 seconds, Rach won Womens by over 11 seconds and Sam Hill was close to annihilating Gee’s time before crashing in the final turn – trying to drift the inside line before crashing and bending his crank arm so much it rubbed the frame. He still crossed the line 3rd… Val di Sole was truly on the map as a venue to be respected – and 3 of 4 World Champions crowned that day were British!
The track is hard due to the combination of gradient, roughness and dirt. Fine dust gathers in the holes hiding their depth, covering roots and riders have to ride so smoothly and pick their line not to get out of rhythm. There are numerous steep sections where if riders get out of this rhythm the issue will magnify – almost as a vibration turns to resonance and in the end they are ejected out of the section and into the unforgiving terrain.
The Athertons have had a fantastic record here. Rachel Atherton with 5 wins – including her World Championship victory in 2016 to complete the Perfect Season. Gee added to his win in 2008 with another in 2013 and has been on the podium on 3 other occasions.
However, in the men's field, it is Aaron Gwin who is the man to beat here with 4 wins – one of these, in 2012, being a 7-second destruction of the field.
Bike set up is clearly key for this track, but is the bike chosen also key? In 2016 Danny Hart led a 1,2,3 for Mondraker – and since Brook has returned to this brand he has transformed his racing. The Commencal is known to be a ‘magic carpet’ of a bike (quote by a World Cup racer who does not ride for Commencal) and Amaury Pierron, on said bike, was 2nd behind Gwin here last year.
These could be all the ingredients we need for an exciting race – riders on form, bikes pushed to their limit and a track that is known to deliver for the fans and challenge the riders.
Pull up your seats and enjoy what will unfold – it is sure to have us talking all the way from Italy to Andorra.