Andorra and Val di Sole

2016 was an interesting season for New Zealand’s World Cup downhillers. Both the juniors and elites showed a lot of promise in their respective fields, but were dogged by mechanicals, crashes and injuries. Despite the setbacks, there was consistently a NZ elite in the top ten, with moments where as many as three kiwis made it into the same bracket. Hence the stage was set for the final World Cup in Andorra and World Champs in Val di Sole.

Surrounded by a towering mountain range, the track in Andorra was not lacking in views and sent its riders straight down a mountain into the town of La Massana below. A rough and physical course, it was incredibly dusty throughout the week, and was only relieved at the last minute by a torrential thunderstorm during elite finals. The track was a rider favourite, and punished many in its steep and loose bottom sector. 

Cole Lucas, one of New Zealand’s brightest hope in Junior Mens downhill at the moment, sailing to a 10th place in the Junior category at Vallnord. The track in Val di Sole punished all the New Zealand Juniors, with many finishing with mechanicals or crashes, and this took Cole out as well. A 37th place for him the following week at World Champs.

Cole Lucas, one of New Zealand’s brightest hope in Junior Mens downhill at the moment, sailing to a 10th place in the Junior category at Vallnord. The track in Val di Sole punished all the New Zealand Juniors, with many finishing with mechanicals or crashes, and this took Cole out as well. A 37th place for him the following week at World Champs.

The junior field had a good day out racing, with Cole Lucas taking a 10th in the Junior Men’s and Shania Rawson taking a 4th in Junior Women’s. Rupert Chapman led the charge in the elite’s category with a 29th, continuing to show his form from throughout the season. Eddie Masters had an incredible run with his first three split times inside the top 5. Sadly he crashed on a steep bridge in the lower section of the course and had to settle for 52nd. Sam Blenkinsop was looking on track for another solid result before a crash of insane proportions left him in hospital with a bruised lung.

Sam Blenkinsop scaring photographers off the back of this berm with the classic euro turn to power wheelie. Unfortunately later in the day he was taken out by an almighty crash that left him with a bruised lung.

Sam Blenkinsop scaring photographers off the back of this berm with the classic euro turn to power wheelie. Unfortunately later in the day he was taken out by an almighty crash that left him with a bruised lung.

World Champs was no exception to the rule, with many of the New Zealand elites struggling. Set high in the Dolomites, the track’s location was nothing short of epic. The track was incredibly dusty again, with a loose surface that soon blew away in practice to reveal the true monster beneath. By the time finals rolled around, the course was a maze of sniper roots and rocks hidden beneath a foot of dust in places. George Brannigan put in the best result of the day with a 13th, after a similar performance in the timed session. Wyn Masters put his injuries behind him to take a 25th, describing the track as possibly the hardest dry race he had ever competed in.

George Brannigan had the best season out of everyone from New Zealand, and goes into next year looking to move up the field and add some more podiums to his already impressive resume.

George Brannigan had the best season out of everyone from New Zealand, and goes into next year looking to move up the field and add some more podiums to his already impressive resume.

Brook MacDonald couldn’t back up his impressive seeding time and slipped to 29th after finals. On the junior side of the racing, nearly every junior had a mistake or mechanical. Shania Rawson slipped back to 4th with a crash after seeding 1st in the Junior Women. This was an unfortunate end to her European campaign but one she will surely improve on next year in Cairns. In the Junior Men it was Simon Read that came in first, with a 32nd place showing the luck of the juniors at Worlds. Cole Lucas followed it up with a 37th after crashing hard in his race run.  Oscar Perks made a name for himself with an impressive crash in seeding, but crashed again in his race run and had to settle for a result he wasn’t pleased with.

Brook muscling his way through the gigantic hole that formed at the end of the first berm at World Champs. Unfortunately he couldn’t capitalise on his impressive seeding result of 12th and ended up in 29th, still a good day by anyone’s standards.

Brook muscling his way through the gigantic hole that formed at the end of the first berm at World Champs. Unfortunately he couldn’t capitalise on his impressive seeding result of 12th and ended up in 29th, still a good day by anyone’s standards.

With a strong junior contingent coming through the ranks, hopefully next year will see less mishaps and more podiums. While news of a cancelled national series threatened to slow progress for New Zealand downhill, it is great to see a new initiative from New Zealand clubs with a 6-round national summer series being organised at the last minute for 2017. With the Wairoa Gorge and Christchurch Adventure Park opening to the public at the end of the year, there has never been a better time to be a mountain bike racer in New Zealand and over the next few years it will be impressive to see the huge pool of talent that will surely develop amongst the juniors in New Zealand.

Shania Rawson during race run at Vallnord, finishing 4th. Although she came through with an incredibly strong 1st place in seeding at World Champs the week after, several mistakes in her race run put her in 4th when it was all said and done.

Shania Rawson during race run at Vallnord, finishing 4th. Although she came through with an incredibly strong 1st place in seeding at World Champs the week after, several mistakes in her race run put her in 4th when it was all said and done.

Eddie, Eddie, Eddie… 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 51st at the splits in Andorra. One day very soon a YOLO run is going to stick top to bottom and another Sir Ed will be crowned in New Zealand.

Eddie, Eddie, Eddie… 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 51st at the splits in Andorra. One day very soon a YOLO run is going to stick top to bottom and another Sir Ed will be crowned in New Zealand.

Rupert had another breakout season, putting down a 17th at Leogang and showing a hell of a lot of consistency over the year. Over the past few years he has steadily been building up, and you have to wonder if 2017 is going to be a record setting year again for him and New Zealand.

Rupert had another breakout season, putting down a 17th at Leogang and showing a hell of a lot of consistency over the year. Over the past few years he has steadily been building up, and you have to wonder if 2017 is going to be a record setting year again for him and New Zealand.

A bit about the author - Ben Karalus

I’m 18 years of age, and have lived in Nelson for my whole life. However, during the academic year you’ll find me in Christchurch trying to balance my engineering studies with riding and racing. I also like to try my hand at taking photos and will often be seen swinging a camera round after a race run.

Earlier in the year I was lucky enough to be selected in the New Zealand Junior World Championships team to travel over and race at the UCI World Champs in Val Di Sole. I also took this opportunity to race a World Cup in Andorra, the week before World Champs. During qualifying in Andorra I was held up by a slower rider for the last quarter of the track. Unfortunately I finished 2 seconds outside the qualifying time and didn’t make the cut for race day. Instead I took photos during finals with a media bib sourced from Eddie (actually on behalf of all the Kiwis, thanks Eddie and the rest of the Bergamont guys for your support). At World Champs my derailleur fell off and got wrapped around my chain stay near the top of my run, but I made it down into 46th. Not the best way to end an overseas trip but regardless it was an incredible experience!