"After the rain, the sun comes out." You could choose to interpret the Slovenian National Champion’s favourite saying literally or figuratively. So perhaps we can expect better riding conditions at the forthcoming Mercedes-BenzUCI Downhill World Cup double-header at Maribor, Slovenia, than we did at last week’s Leogang UCI World Championships. Or perhaps it’s a sign to follow the positive mindset of the 26-year-old rider who fought through the elements to reach the podium at her first Elite UCI Worlds race – that there is a mental battle going on as the riders try to overcome the extreme physical challenges that 2020’s unique autumn fixture list throws up.
And either way, it will be a compelling UCI World Cup round to watch as the planet’s best gravity riders come back together for two races in Slovenia straight off the back of the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz.
Following the excitement of the intense racing at the UCI Cross-country World Cup double-header at Nové Město na Moravě (Czech Republic), it’s the downhill fraternity’s turn to face two UCI World Cup rounds with a similar format. At Maribor, races for Men and Women Juniors and Elites are run over 15-16 October, with the formula repeated on 17-18 October.
We’ll see the same structure two weeks later in Louså, Portugal, where Monika Hrastnik won the 2018 European Championships.
At Leogang 2020, Hrastnik took third place by riding to the conditions as much as racing the competition, bettering more experienced riders in the Austrian mudbath.
Regardless of the weather conditions this week, there are similarities between the nature of the courses in Austria and Slovenia – and Italy, where Hrastnik scored her first UCI DHI World Cup podium in July 2018, her third year racing on the circuit.
“The best track for me is Maribor and also Val di Sole. I love steep tracks and long in the mud.”
Rocks and drops
Like many of the world’s best downhill venues, the slovenian track is in a ski resort, Maribor Pohorjeeee. While Maribor has held four-cross races, it’s also a regular host to downhill events including a UCI DHI World Cup in 2019 after a hiatus of nine years, for which new gap-jumps were built. Relatively short at 1.9km long, with a total drop of around 420m, like Leogang, it starts in the open (780m above sea level) before heading into the rocky, rooty forest section.
Bursting off the X-Class Luka kicker riders speed through meadows before hitting the woods and the Visit Pohorje Rox’n’Roll section, with roots and hard-packed clay, where gradients peak at 43%. There’s the famous Maribor rock garden – testing in the dry and terrifying in the wet – before the Red Bull Pipi’n’Melkiad, a 12m gap jump with a 3m drop. The Mercedes-Benz Copka is the last big gap, just 100m from the finish line.
“The terrain is very diverse, the track is very fast and you have to keep pace from the start,” says Hrastnik. “You must keep the speed you gain in the bends and compressions along the whole course. Roots and rocky sections are in wet weather very slippery and this makes the course even more interesting and demanding.”
Who to watch
As 2020’s visits to Austria and the Czech Republic have reminded us, whatever a rider’s previous achievements, there is always new, emerging talent hungry to take the crown.
For what it’s worth, in last year’s Elite Men’s race, then UCI World Champion Loïc Bruni (FRA) narrowly beat Danny Hart (GBR) with Troy Brosnan (AUS) third. None of these three got sufficiently on top of Leogang’s conditions last Sunday but should look to reimpose themselves. Or could Britain’s new World Champion Reece Wilson ride his current great form?
Last year’s highest placed Slovenian was Adam Rojcek, with his best ever UCI World Cup result, 18th. 25-year-old Jure Žabjek had a great run in Leogang 2020: 1st at the 1st split, 2nd at the 2nd, battling through the woods, slotting in for a provisional 12th place, with the final classification of 19th.
In Maribor’s 2019 Elite Women Tahnée Seagrave pipped Rachel Atherton – before both British riders succumbed to injury. Seagrave is back in shape and Atherton, who is fighting to get fit, remembers winning at Maribor way back in 2010 riding with a broken finger. The tough trio of Tracey Hannah (AUS), Marine Cabirou (FRA) and home star Monika Hrastnik filled the 2019 podium and all suit the course. Could new World Champion Camille Balanche (SUI) take inspiration from the rainbow stripes, or might Myriam Nicole (FRA) take revenge?
Expect an updated programme at https://www.worldcup.si/ and watch the action live via Red Bull TV.