Everything you need to know about the Vallnord World Cup
© Bartek Woliński
Here's the essential info and what to look out for as the DH and XCO teams take to World Cup racing in the mountains above Andorra.
Having only just managed to get our collective breath back from another exciting round of the Mercedes-Benz UCI MTB World Cup in Val di Sole, we're moving on quickly to another dual downhill and cross-country contest in Vallnord, Andorra, this weekend. It's a relatively short transfer for the teams from Italy to Andorra, but there'll be little time for the riders to recover before practice gets underway on the Vallnord hillside.
Where are we?
Vallnord's in Andorra, one of Europe's smaller states, wedged between France and Spain in the Pyrenees. Andorra is the 16th smallest country in the world by land and the 11th smallest by population. There's almost a zero crime rate in Andorra, so there's little chance of expensive bikes being stolen, which is welcome news to many of the MTB teams and their riders.
Like most venues and locations on the Mercedes Benz UCI MTB World Cup, Vallnord is an year-round tourist hotspot doubling as a place to bike in the summer and ski in winter. MTB World Cup racing takes place at the Pal-Arinsal ski resort with the nearest town being La Massana, which sits in the valley below it. The town hosts the finish area of the downhill race.
What are the courses like?
This will be the sixth time the Vallnord Bike Park has played host to a UCI World Cup downhill round and the third consecutive year since 2016 for both downhill and cross-country disciplines. Like many World Cup venues modifications are made every year and both the downhill and cross-country tracks have undergone some work.
The DH track is one that requires full-on focus. Now 2.5km in length, the track's steep and drops 626m vertically. Many technical challenges lie in wait for the riders with hidden roots, sharp rocks, high-speed drops, berms and off-camber sections all featuring. The track in the dry can be a real dust-bowl.
Watch Claudio Caluori tackle the Vallnord track in 2017:
The XCO races take place on a 3.8km track that's set on the area around the Pal-Arinsal ski station and so is set at high altitude. The altitude can be a very real factor is deciding who wins here, with athletes who regularly train at high altitude levels having a distinct advantage. The course itself is a mix of steep, rocky, punchy climbs and loose switchback descents. For 2018, the start and finish area has been changed from the previous World Cup cross-country races on the circuit.
Val di Sole recap
The weather threatened to turn Val di Sole into a mudfest this past weekend, but thankfully the thunderstorms and the rain held off on race days. A drying course in the downhill presented its own problems with many a rider finding their bike slipping out underneath them.
The men's race saw Amaury Pierron takes his third World Cup win in a row. This was a measured run from the Frenchman that saw him take time at the bottom of the course from Laurie Greenland, who had until then been sitting in the hot seat. In third was Danny Hart.
Watch the 2018 Val di Sole DH Finals highlights below:
The XCO races took place under baking heat. The women's category produced a surprise with Poland's Maja Włoszczowska taking the win. Emily Batty from Canada took second and the Swiss Jolanda Neff was in third. The winner of the men's race was more predictable. Nino Schurter took his 29th World Cup win with Italian Gerhard Kerschbaumer a surprise second and Dutchman Mathieu Van der Poel in third.
Who's going to win in Vallnord?
Elite Men: At the moment Amaury Pierron is hot to trot when it comes to racing downhill. He's got a hat-trick of consecutive wins on the World Cup, so who'd bet against the Frenchman making it four wins when he's on such rich vein of form and confidence? There's another thing in his favour in Vallnord. This is the home track of his team Commencal, and Pierron would have tested here several times in the past six months. Whatever happens, he's expected to beat his previous best-placed finish of 13th in Vallnord.
|YEAR||ELITE MEN||ELITE WOMEN|
|2017||Troy Brosnan||Myriam Nicole|
|2016||Danny Hart||Rachel Atherton|
|2015 (Worlds)||Loïc Bruni||Rachel Atherton|
|2013||Rémi Thirion||Rachel Atherton|
|2009||Steve Peat||Sabrina Jonnier|
Aaron Gwin won't be racing in Vallnord after deciding to give his injured thumb some proper time to heal, so if it isn't Pierron then we're in for quite an open race. Luca Shaw has probably been the most consistently fast racer this season outside Pierron, but has had some bad luck in a couple of races. He still has a second-place in Lošinj and a fourth-place in Val di Sole to his name, though.
Elite women: It's been a topsy-turvy season so far with three different winners of the four World Cup races so far. No one appears to be dominating, though Tahnée Seagrave has won at Fort William and Val di Sole this year. Rachel Atherton has won here twice in the World Cup and once in the Worlds, and with Myriam Nicole, last year's winner at Vallnord, nursing a back injury the Brit is the favourite to win in Andorra.
Recap the 2017 Vallnord DH race here:
Elite Men: Racing at altitude doesn't seem to be a problem for Nino Schurter. He's won three times here, including the Worlds in 2015. Picking a likely challenger to Schurter isn't easy this season as he's been pushed in each of his race wins by a different competitor. Maxime Marotte had a miserable race in Val di Sole, but outside Schurter has done consistently well on this Vallnord circuit the times he's raced on it.
Elite Women: Annika Langvad's failure to finish in Vallnord due to a opening loop crash has opened up the race for the overall World Cup title. The Dane hurt her hand in the fall, but nothing was broken. She may find it hard to compete with the hand so sore though. Jolanda Neff and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot are previous winners in Vallnord and that know-how in altitude conditions marks them out as favourites.
Recap the 2017 Vallnord XCO race here:
Watch all the action from Vallnord right here:
DH Women – July 14
- Vallnord, Andorra: 12.30pm
- Vancouver, Canada: 3.30am
- New York, USA: 6.30am
- London, UK: 11.30am
- Sydney, Australia: 8.30pm
- Auckland, New Zealand: 10.30pm
DH Men - July 14
- Vallnord, Andorra: 2pm
- Vancouver, Canada: 5am
- New York, USA: 8am
- London, UK: 1pm
- Sydney, Australia: 10pm
- Auckland, New Zealand: 00.00am (July 15)
XCO Women - July 15
- Vallnord, Andorra: 12pm
- Vancouver, Canada: 3am
- New York, USA: 6am
- London, UK: 11am
- Sydney, Australia: 8pm
- Auckland, New Zealand: 10pm
XCO Men - July 15
- Vallnord, Andorra: 2.30pm
- Vancouver, Canada: 5.30am
- New York, USA: 8.30am
- London, UK: 1.30pm
- Sydney, Australia: 10.30pm
- Auckland, New Zealand: 12.30am (July 16)