Val di Sole Downhill World Championships 2016 – track walk

It’s been a season of intertwining narratives – records broken, titles won, friends tragically lost. This weekend it comes to a head. One race, one run.

The World Championships are always a special occasion and really deserve a special track. One that tests skill, fortitude and fitness in equal measure and maybe, although this is a fleeting luxury in recent years, one that actually scares those tackling it.

Val Di Sole has always been all of these things. If you need any evidence cast your mind back eight years to the last time we were in this position – Sam Hill’s finals run, one of the greatest downhill rides of all time, thwarted by a momentary lack of concentration. History was made in a story only the World Champs could accommodate.

Though the sport of downhill has moved on in eight years, the course hasn’t. It’s still an uncompromising brute, a matted lump of roots and boulders choked by an ankle deep layer of dust. After a weekend of sparring, the Masters have left it nicely bedded in, raw and ready for the World’s fastest. They got their first taste of it yesterday and here’s all the best action:

Viva L’Italia!
One of the big name tracks on the World circuit - literally
It might not be Rio but the Italians still put on a show for the Opening Ceremony
You get a great view of this venerable track from the cablecar
With great views of the surrounding hills from the top
Forget whatever happened over the past 7 races, this is a fresh start for all involved
Connect four? Can anyone stop Hart's hot streak?
He enters this race as leader of the pack but the Worlds are an unpredictable affair
Current junior World Champ Greenland won't be able to defend that crown but has his sights on a new one
A new top section has been added and, thankfully, those evil wooden bridges have been abandoned
Steep and tech, the prefect track to decide the fastest mountain biker in the world
Team jerseys give way to national jerseys on this special weekend
Fairclough was 14th at the '08 World Champs here, let's see what eight years has taught him
Martin Maes is making one of his downhill cameos as Belgium's only rider. Let's hope it's as eventful as the previous ones
This track is gnarly enough to demand the full attention of one of the greatest riders ever.
Fresh off World Cup glory can Gwin break his World Champs curse? (now there's a sentence we've definitely written before)

The defending champ will have to overcome the Val Di Sole rhizome to keep his stripes
The Specialized Gravity Republic surveys the damage
Finn Iles has to be one of the favourites for the junior title this year, his times have been worrrying the elites at some races
Kerr cruelly missed out on selection but he's here offering tips and advice to his Pivot team mates
Kiwis on parade in the afternoon dust
Fearon quietly slid into fifth place in the overall this year, he's definitely a threat here in Val di Sole
This huck separated the fastest riders last year, expect everyone to be going for it on Sunday with Worlds glory on the line
The open sections are no less rooty than those in the woods
The names of previous winners lines the trackside. Will any of them repeat their success this weekend?
Gutierrez brought his ski poles to combat the thick dust
As did Pekoll
The Aussie's are out in force this weekend despite missing one man with a lot of history on this track
Dappled sunlight provides an added challenge for riders
Young Elliott Heap gets some wise words from a man who has done it all before
Brosnan has been there or there abouts all year, he's so close to snatching a win
The iconic plunge out of the wood is no place to let your guard down
20 metres has been surpassed on this jump before. Nice to see the UCI getting into the spirit of things though.
The tape looks pristine now but it will be broken up and down the track as riders experiment with new lines and high speeds
All eyes will be on this clock
Here's one we missed yesterday - Tahnee's glittery TR500
The plate that everyone wants is Bruni's... for now
It's not just downhill this weekend, the 4x boys throw down on Friday night
Everyone's wheelie relaxed for now but the serious business starts when tyres touch ground on the Italian hillside
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