New Zealand’s leading downhill mountain bikers may face more than just one of the fiercest tracks for the second round of the UCI World Cup at Val di Sole in Italy this weekend. Wet weather is forecast for downhill race day on Monday (New Zealand time) with the possibility of storms to add drama to this rugged course which has both fulfilled and shattered dreams of the best downhill riders in the world.
All five of New Zealand’s professional team riders will be in action at the famous Italian course, which hosted the World Championships in 2008 and has often been the deciding World Cup at the end of the season.
It is a place where New Zealand riders have prospered, including outstanding 20 year old Hawkes Bay rider Brook MacDonald. The Red Bull rider from MS Mondraker team finished an excellent seventh place in the World Championships at Val di Sole last year and showed he is in strong form with third place from a world class field in last weekend’s European Cup.
National champion Justin Leov (Trek World Racing) is another to prosper at the valley of the sun, finishing a career best sixth at the World Championships in Italy in 2008. He comes in after finishing second in the US national series race last weekend behind teammate Aaron Gwin.
Val di Sole also marks the return to top level for Lapierre International teammates Sam Blenkinsop and Cameron Cole, both back after long term injuries.
Blenkinsop, 23, from Wanganui came from the high at the end of 2011 with his third placing at the World Championships to the low of breaking his leg at the start of 2012. He placed an excellent 10th place in his shakedown at the European Cup last weekend. Teammate Cole (Christchurch) returns to the top echelon after nearly eight months away from the sport following a badly broken wrist at September’s World Championships in Champery, Switzerland. He had a solid 24th at the European Cup.
There are expectations on young Hawkes Bay rider George Brannigan, racing for Devinci Global, following an excellent seventh placing at last weekend’s European Cup for the 2009 Junior World Champion and current national Mountainbike Cup champion.
The Val di Sole round marks the start of a frantic month of racing including Fort William in Scotland next weekend, Mont Sainte Anne in Canada on 23-24 June and Windham in USA on 30 June.
Meanwhile Rotorua’s Dirk Peters and fellow under-23 rider, in-form Samara Sheppard (Wheelers iXS) have entered the Swiss Bike Trophy race in Bern, Switzerland.