We look ahead to the final two fixtures of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup with a downhill (DHI) double-header at Lousã, Portugal, the venue that was to have been the first round of this year’s series. What have the two UCI World Cups at Maribor, Slovenia, and the gravity competitions at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz in Leogang, Austria, told us about form and favourites?
In the last three weeks of unforgettably thrilling riding we’ve seen young riders breaking through into the Elites. We’ve seen established riders beaten. We’ve seen wet weather and muddy conditions roll the dice for riders who like to attack. We’ve also seen a lot of French riders on the podium – though not always the ones you might have expected.
So any, all or none of those factors could come into play at the Portuguese head-to-head where the Men and Women Elite finals will be held on Friday 30 October and Sunday 1st November. It’s part of what makes downhill so exciting. And what could the track itself have in store to determine the podium athletes in the last thrilling DHI finals of this unique season?
Welcome to DH2
25km south-east of Coimbra, the Louzan Park mountain bike centre is near the small town of Lousã in the Serra da Lousã mountains. Although this is the first time it has hosted a UCI World Cup, it’s regularly used for pre-season training and technical set-up by top-flight teams and riders, thanks to its characteristics that are in line with regular UCI World Cup venues.
The Lousã World Cup track – called DH2 – is 2.1km long, it’s fast, mostly natural with technical sections. Not unlike Leogang (Austria) and Maribor (Slovenia), the higher part is open then the course hits a forest section.
There are some tight switchback turns, off-camber corners, gap jumps, a boardwalk bridge, and multiple line choices to make. And, as we’ve seen in the recent races, the weather can play a big part in the character, speed and rideability of any track - so mistakes will be punished.
French favourites in Elite Women
The short 2020 season so far has seen rich picking for French riders. After Léona Pierrini won both Juniors races, in the Elite Women, 23-year-old Marine Cabirou picked up where she left off, after winning the last three UCI World Cups of 2019. She’s on fire with a first-race win and a fifth-place in the second final at Maribor, remaining in contention even with a “big mistake” in the famous Slovenian rock garden.
The woman who reclaimed the 2020 French national title from Cabirou is also the rider who came second behind her in race 1 at Maribor, then won race 2: 2019 UCI World Champion Myriam Nicole may have lost her rainbow jersey to Switzerland’s Camille Balanche, but she hasn’t lost any of her determination. She also knows how to win at Lousã, having claimed the Portugal Cup races held there for the last three years straight.
If Tracey Hannah (AUS) – who announced bowing out of World Cups– gets her run all together she could be unmatchable, while Tahnée Seagrave (2nd in Maribor race 2) is steadily returning to her best form. Italy’s Eleonora Farina took the third place she’s been threatening for so long, and Slovenia’s Monika Hrastnik’s third in the Leogang Worlds was backed up with a fifth and a sixth place on her home track. The Slovenian will have good memories of Lousã, won the 2018 European Championships there. Nina Hoffmann (GER) and Mikayla Parton (GBR) are two more young riders eager to upset the Elite applecart.
French flyers in the Elite Men
If the Maribor World Cup and the last three years of Portugal Cup races are anything to go by, the men’s winner will most surely be French. But it would take a brave person to predict which one.
Loris Vergier won both rounds at Maribor, leading a French 1-2-3 in the first race from a resurgent Rémi Thirion (third at the 2020 UCI World Championships; winner of the 2017 Portugal Cup) and the precocious talent of Thibaut Daprela (double Junior UCI World Cup overall winner stepping up to the Elites).
Four time UCI World Champion Loïc Bruni could ‘only’ manage second place. But like Nicole, is he most dangerous when he’s wounded? Without Amaury Pierron - winner in Lousã in 2018 and 2019 but side-lined with a serious injury sustained at the French national championships -, his brothers Antoine and Baptiste are amongst the French riders showing formidable strength in depth.
If the 2020 UCI World Championships is a form guide, British riders are worth watching: new rainbow jersey Reece Wilson was fastest in qualifying at Maribor before crashing, double UCI World Champion Danny Hart knows his way around Lousã, and Matt Walker was the only rider to stop a French double sweep of podiums in Slovenia. Unfortunately, Laurie Greenland is out with an injury.
But the winner could also come from outside Europe. Australia’s Troy Brosnan looks like he could put together a winning run at any moment. The legendary Greg Minnaar (RSA) is beating upstarts young enough to be his sons, while Luca Shaw (USA), Finn Iles (CAN) and Jack Moir (AUS) are all riding well.