Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup: new track awaits downhill stars in Les Gets

The 2021 UCI Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup continues in Les Gets (France) across the weekend of 3-4 July, with the fourth round for cross-country Olympic (XCO) and the second meeting for the stars of downhill (DHI) after their season opener in Leogang (Austria) on 12-13 June.

Today, we shine the spotlight on the downhill racing, which begins Friday with the seeding runs for Women Junior and qualification runs for Men Junior, Women Elite and Men Elite.

Les Gets is a regular host of UCI mountain bike events, and next year will organise the 2022 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, 18 years after it last provided the theatre for the rainbow jersey battles. That was in 2004, when the French resort was the scene of some unforgettable racing that revealed and crowned incredible athletes, some of whom are still at the top of the sport today.

Frenchman Fabien Barel won the first of his two consecutive Elite Men's DHI titles from Greg Minnaar (RSA) after fastest qualifier Steve Peat (GBR) crashed out of the lead near the finish. Aged 40, Minnaar still lights up the world’s podiums.

Peat’s fellow Briton, Rachel Atherton podiumed as a Junior Woman that year. This season, 37 UCI World Cup wins later, she is not competing as she is pregnant, but keeps a close eye on the racing.

Meanwhile BMX specialist Vanessa Quin (NZL) won the Women’s DHI Elite after eight-time champion France’s Anne-Caroline Chausson, was injured in training.

For the records, in the XCO racing, France’s Julien Absalon took the first of his five Elite UCI World titles while the then Olympic Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle (NOR) won the Women’s, and an emerging Swiss talent, Nino Schurter, beat the French Juniors in their own backyard.

The tracks for both DHI and XCO have been updated for this weekend, with new technical sections adding fresh challenges for the riders. The downhill track is inspired by those used in the P2V Invitational last September. It’s still on the slopes of Mont-Chéry with the same start gate and finish line as the 2019 UCI World Cup, but significant changes are being finalised.

“The bottom of the track will be completely transformed,” promised DHI course directors Léandre Alegri and Ben Tex.

With no UCI World Cup at Les Gets last year, it is worth considering the form of those who performed well in 2019: Amaury Pierron (FRA) won from his countryman Loïc Bruni and Britain’s Laurie Greenland. Bruni went on to edge out Pierron in the UCI World Cup overall and Troy Brosnan (AUS) in that year’s UCI World Championships.

Tracey Hannah (AUS) won from Marine Cabirou and Salvadoran Mariana Salazar. The Australian pipped Cabirou in the overall, while Myriam Nicole (FRA) found her late-season form to claim the rainbow stripes.

The Junior winners, Thibauat Dapréla (FRA) and Valentina Höll (AUT), dominated their respective categories that season and subsequently stepped up and made their mark in Elites, not least with podiums in Austria just days ago.

The performances from the downhill opener in Leogang are every bit as interesting. At 27, Troy Brosnan looks to be bringing together his enormous potential he demonstrated as a youngster with two Junior UCI World Champion titles. His beautiful winning ride in Leogang put the breathlessly fast and ragged run of Thibaut Dapréla into second

Pierron was close behind – a return to racing after a broken back at the French Nationals, with a style suggesting he’s never been away – edging UCI World Champion Reece Wilson (GBR) out of third.

“It feels just so good to be back at the races,” said Amaury Pierron on social media. “I was mentally not ready for this. So it’s a good surprise”.

In the Women’s Elite the UCI World Champion Camille Balanche took top spot: the Swiss was more than a second clear of home rider Valentina Höll. Monika Hrastnik (SLO) was just behind in third, the position she achieved on the same track in the UCI Worlds last year, and comfortably ahead of Cabirou (FRA) and Tahnée Seagrave (GBR).

“Not the best World Cup week of my life, but after few days off it’s time to turn the page and focus on the next one,” was Marine Cabirou’s reaction on social media.

The Men’s Junior race saw a first UCI World Cup win for Junior Spanish Champion Pau Menoyo Busquets, who will aim to reproduce the great form he demonstrated in Les Gets last year at the 2020 French Cup. He beat Canadian Jackson Goldstone, already a familiar name globally. UCI World Champion Oisin O’Callaghan (IRL) came in 8th.

In the Women Junior category, it was a first UCI World Cup win for Sophie Gutöhrle in Leogang. The 18-year-old Austrian finished 2nd in the UCI World Championships last year, despite crashing, behind Lauryne Chappaz (FRA) who sprained her thumb the day before qualification at Leogang. Chappaz had won the previous Junior Women UCI World Cup round in November 2020 in Lousã, Portugal. Running a close second in Leogang was Leona Pierrini, the talented French rider who finished third in the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships.

All these riders head to the French Alps with high ambitions.