2018 DH World Cup Preview: Is The GOAT Still The Man To Beat?
April 21, 22 – Losinj, Croatia
The opening round of the 2018 season takes place on a Croatian island, Losinj. First-time hosts of a round of the DH World Cup, the venue and course builders will be eager to impress the riders and fans. From what I have seen, it’s a beautiful setting for a race; what is less attractive is the size of the rocks and the somewhat awkward-looking race track. In terms of my predictions for this race, I think we will see plenty of mechanicals in the race run due to the many man-made rock sections, which usually erode awkwardly under race conditions.
I also think we will see some fresh faces on the podium as new race tracks often unsettle the old guard of podium contenders. What I’m most keen for is to see the following: Will Canadian rookie Finn Iles podium at his first elite race? What kind of form are the series favourites like the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) Minnaar and Gwin in? How many riders will start the season on 29er’s and is anyone able to hold pace with a healthy Rachel Atherton?
June 2, 3 – Fort William, Scotland
This iconic venue always delivers an exciting race. In 2017, a new short bog section wreaked havoc on the field with only the most experienced able to stay upright and carry speed through it. I hope the track organisers have done some work on that piece of the track to keep it challenging, but still spectacular, to watch. In terms of the racing, we will see two mind-sets from the top riders: those who didn’t put in a good result at the opening round and are wanting to get their season back on track, and those who are wanting to consolidate on a good opening round.
The wind and rain often impact on the results here, in fact it’s a track that drains really well and a little light rain can actually increase traction and speeds, although the impaired vision will need to be managed. Obviously Minnaar with his incredible eight wins at this venue is a firm favourite but I think we will see some big efforts from Aussie Jack Moir who nearly won in 2017, Brit Danny Hart who has never won here and Aaron Gwin who last won here some six years ago.
June 9, 10 – Leogang, Austria
Perhaps more bike park than raw downhill, Leogang always delivers very exciting racing with tight times. With all the attention on overall contenders Minnaar and Gwin, I think that the little Frenchy Loris Vergier could steal the lime light at this one. Vergier rides with a certain precision and clean technique that this high-speed, flowy race track rewards. If he is in shape, I am going to call him for the win here at Leogang.
July 7, 8 – Val di Sole, Italy
Steep, rocky, rooty with the ability to dramatically alter the points series due to its highly technical nature – we will surely be in for some wild riding here. This mid-season round is going to be a wide open affair and the list of potential winners is long and favours those who are willing to roll the dice. Perhaps the series contenders will gamble less here and play things slightly safer, but can they afford to?
Incredibly demanding on the body those athletes who have done their off season work and who are not injured will no doubt have an advantage. In the mens race, I expect to see the top 10 littered with up and coming riders like Pierron, Greenland, Iles and Moir. The main protagonists here have to be Gwin, Brosnan, Hart, Minnaar and Bruni. In the womens race, I reckon the athleticism of Atherton, Seagrave and 2017 Series Champ Myriam Nicole will be tough to match.
July 14, 15 – Vallnord, Andorra
The week after the bone rattling and physically demanding Val di Sole round sees the riders roll into Andorra – roll being the operative word here as this Andorran monster track requires little pedalling and is the steepest on the circuit. A whopping 75% gradient towards the bottom of the track (for perspective Suikerbossie is 7%), the buzz phrase for the week will no doubt be ‘arm pump’ with riders pondering how to prevent it. The steep nature of this track sees riders firm up their fork settings, soften the rear suspension and raise their bar height a little.
The high altitude and flattish first half minute of the race requires a smart race strategy as laying down too much of an effort here will amplify fatique levels in the second half of the race. If memory serves me right, we haven’t seen a repeat winner here – yet – this is testament to the demanding nature of this track. The likes of Thirion, Bruni, Hart and Brosnan know what it takes to win here. There will be no lucky podiums here; rather a mix of intelligent riding, bike setup and physical prowess will win the day.
August 11, 12 – Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada
Rain, mud and that guy Gwin dominated the iconic MSA round last year with the American putting in a sterling run which turned his championship around. At this late stage in the series, the point’s race is firmly on the mind of the overall contenders which won’t influence their physical effort as much as it will their head space – the pressure starts to mount on the championship contenders, whether they admit it or not. Due to increased parity amongst the top riders I think the mens and womens titles will still be wide open this late in the series which will make for some dramatic racing.
August 25, 26 – La Bresse, France
Returning to La Bresse after a seven-year hiatus, the series finale will play out on an unfamiliar track and will likely produce a shake up on the podium. With no course knowledge available right now, all I have to reflect on is that Minnaar won the last outing here, let that be an omen for this year’s round and the World Cup series overall which will be wrapped up here.
I am pretty sure we will see less mid-season tinkering with wheel size this year with riders and brands (hopefully) learning last year that a riders familiarity with a bike (either the 27.5 or the 29 option) is crucial and linked to a steady and successful season.
Top 5 Predictions
All things being equal – which is never the case in DH racing and if the contenders stay healthy all year then I think the womens top five will surely be Atherton, Seagrave, Nicole, Hannah and Miller by the end of the season. In the mens field I think we will have two first-time round winners in the form of Bruni and Vergier but the top five positions at the end of the year will go to Minnaar, Gwin, Bruni, Brosnan and Vergier.