Up in the mountains of the Grisons region of Switzerland is Lenzerheide bike park, precisely nestled amongst areas of protected ants, and extreme alpine beauty. The Swiss home of the UCI Downhill World Cup for the last two years, partly created by Steve Peat, is a track known as one of the more “bike-parky” on the circuit. Not to the level of Leogang, as it’s renowned for getting super loose and blowing out after a few days. This year they said there would be changes to the track, and we expected to see crazy new flat out sections, new features and new angles to shoot from.
We might have expected a little more than what was delivered. As far as changes went, the top corner with the mountain backdrop straight out of the start had been removed, some of the multi-line sections had been awkwardly re-taped, and they built a big ‘Rampage-style’ sender into the finish corral, complete with safety mats, red netting, and a hand rail….
Things weren’t looking great as far as first impressions go, but this round would see the return of Keegan Wright, after his wet trip to EWS Milau, and it would the last round for the touring NZ juniors, so there was no time to waste on grumbling about ugly course tape and the like. Everyone was pretty excited about riding the track, and the sun was blazing (as it often is in this area).
Unfortunately, in practice Keegan had an altercation with a large resident of the top rock garden, and came out with a dislocated shoulder, and a trip down the hill in an ambulance. In true testament to his spirit, he still managed to throw up the horns when he spotted the camera. Hopefully Keegan is all healed up in time for his next race.
Brook Macdonald also went down in the very same rock garden, and damaged his hand. So much so that he decided not to practice, and being a protected rider, opted to just roll out of the start gate and keep his hand as rested as possible for race day.
Eyes were now on the Kiwi juniors, as their qualies were up first on the Friday. Shania proving again that she means business with a first place qualifier in the Junior Women.
Although, the rider in front of Shania (Megan James from the UK) went down hard in the big open left hander before the bridge jump, and had to get helicoptered out. Further down the hill we weren’t sure if it was Shania or someone else, so we were super relieved to see her come down. Junior men saw Josh Ox as the fastest going in to qualies, but we were once again left standing by the track wondering why no one had come down, and the rider that was due to come down was Josh. Then the heli returned, and Josh never came down the hill. Turns out he had a nasty looking spill over the stump drop which had him whisked away. He was later released from hospital a bit battered and bruised but all in one piece, which was a real relief! Sam Robbie was the fastest Kiwi junior qualifier, followed by Billy Meaclem, both making the race. Boaz Hebblethwaite was sadly just outside the cut-off again, but looking as close as he was, next year he should be able to punch through. Finn Illes managed to claim the overall junior title as well, with 2 races still to go.
Shania took third step on the podium in her race run and got into some drama trying to pop her bottle with her bad wrist giving her grief.
In the Elites it seemed Brook had made the right decision and came through as the fastest Kiwi on the day, with a respectable 15th place, followed by Blenkie, Eddie, George, Matt Walker and Rupert Chapman. Myriam Nicole took back to back wins in the Womens, whilst the #GOAT Greg Minnaar took another win to add to his impressive total of 21.
One of the real moments was when Aaron Gwin was coming down last as fastest qualifier, almost two seconds up, when he sliced his rear tyre side wall and his tyre and rim parted ways. He came down, and calmly and coolly walked over and congratulated everyone, and then gave high-5’s to his waiting fans, showing awesome sportsmanship on his part. A shout-out needs to go to Phil Atwill (you’ll remember his onesie from previous SPOKE articles this year) for getting on the podium too.
Now it’s time for long flights for the Kiwis heading back home, and time for others to head to the land of Maple Syrup and good manners. A bit of cooler weather for the team, and then we’re back into it with two rounds left, and a World Champs event in Cairns.
Words & Images - Jay French, Freeride NZ