10 things to look out for during mountain bike World Cup double race weeks
© Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool
The original plans for the 2020 season might have been obliterated, but the racing schedule left in its place should make for some of the most intense and interesting downhill racing ever encountered.
There’s no denying that 2020 has been a strange year for downhill mountain biking. Races have been postponed left, right and centre while athletes have had to figure out new ways to train and stay motivated through all the uncertainty and lockdowns.
When the UCI released its revised schedule for the 2020 downhill mountain bike season everyone was excited to finally have some dates back in their diaries. But there was one thing that stood out in the new plans: double race weeks.
Essentially, the two remaining UCI Downhill MTB World Cup venues, Maribor and Lousa, will host not just one, but two races each. Double race weeks will kick off with race one qualifying on the Thursday followed by finals on the Friday before doing it all again on Saturday and Sunday. With only a one week break between the venues, fans can look forward to a long overdue hit of downhill action that will see four World Cup races run over the space of three weeks.
But what will double race weeks mean for the riders, their bikes and ultimately, the results? Here, we explore some of the talking points that are bound to come up in Slovenia and Portugal...
1. Consistency is key
More than ever, consistency will be key. With riders racing the same track twice in the space of three days, it will be interesting to see which riders manage to keep a consistent result and which ones fluctuate wildly between races and why.
2. Mud v dust
There’s always been an age old discussion about how the Brits are better suited to racing in the wet. Anybody looking at Danny Harts’ winning Champery run from 2011 couldn’t really disagree
But with the double race weeks, the chance of the weather and track conditions changing between each World Cup race is even higher – especially as it will be in the midst of autumn in Europe.
The same course could provide two very different races with two very different outcomes; potentially finally putting the age-old ‘Brits love the wet’ argument to rest.
3. A rethink of race prep
Athletes spend their entire careers training and perfecting their dream race week schedule. Years of trial and error help them to find the perfect pre-race routine that will set them up for success.
The delayed onset of these events is likely to have already changed the way a lot of athletes have trained over the prolonged off-season and it will be interesting to find out if any riders have changed up their training routine to better physically prepare them for such a demanding event structure.
It’s not all about training either with riders also having to factor in time for recovery. Who will be able to handle the change, who will thrive off the limited time between races, and who requires that time and rest between events to be able to charge hard at the next event?
4. It’s all in the mind
It’s not all just about the physical toll. Many riders will tell you that one of the key factors of being successful in downhill racing is your mental state and preventing burnout. In the same way that riders watch back POV runs to see where they can improve on the track the next day, riders will also make time to reflect on previous races in order to learn and improve from them. Each winning or losing moment is an opportunity to learn from that all feeds into riders finding their perfect pre-race schedule.
With such little time between races one and two, the ability to learn from the outcome of the first race to continue the winning streak into the next one or learn and adapt for the second race will be key.
5. Whose line is it anyway?
Line choice is one of the most hotly contested things to come out of a race weekend and this will be by far one of the most exciting things to watch as a spectator. With the live feed covering almost every inch of the track, it will be fun to see the differences in line choices between each race and find out the reasons for any changes from the riders. For example, will there be a line that only a handful of riders were taking that by the second race becomes more evident, allowing more riders to find and take it, slashing the time gap between racers even further?
This is also a great opportunity for the riders themselves to test out two different ways down the mountain and see which line they thrive off of best. And who knows? A line that on the surface feels riskier may actually suit their racing mindset and style better come race day.
6. Will more runs be a help or hindrance?
Some riders may prefer a smaller number of runs so that the track stays fresh to them on every run and they don’t fixate on a particular segment, while some will smash out lap after lap to find the perfect run and still have enough energy for race day. It comes down to finding the mental and physical balance of racing and the ever elusive perfect number of runs a rider should do on track before racing it.
It will be interesting to see how riders will feel going back to practise the course again after the previous day’s race and whether the extra time on the track between race one and two are a help or hindrance.
7. Can the bikes handle the heat?
Val di Sole 2017 qualifying highlights
Speculation over bikes is always a hot topic, and rightly so. Downhill racing is a harsh environment and each brand claims that its bikes can manage and take the impacts better than all the rest.
In a standard season, the top factory teams tend to have a new bike every race (or at least every couple of races) while others will run the same frame for a full season of racing.
In this truncated season, it will be interesting to see if some teams pack multiple frames with the intention of building up a fresh bike for the second race of the week. And with such heavy usage in a short space of time, those bombproof claims will surely be put to the test.
8. Under pressure
Picture this: you’ve just won the first race of the week, you’re on the podium and you’re buzzing off of all the adrenaline. Then the thought kicks in “can I do this a second time around?”
It can be hard enough to manage the expectations of turning up to a World Cup having bagged the win at the previous race, so that can only be magnified when you’ll be doing it all again two days later with a target firmly placed above your head.
Some riders enjoy leaving a venue and having that fresh new challenge at the next round, but this won’t be a possibility for the 2020 season’s second and fourth World Cup races. Will we see the first winner thrive off of their win and carry it into the second race, or will the expectations get the better of them?
9. Recovering from failing to stay rubber side down
In Downhill, regardless of whether it’s racing or riding for fun, we always know that crashing is a possibility. During race runs, stakes are high, every racer between the tape is pushing it for that top step on the podium and sometimes the tyres don’t always stay rubber side down.
How will a rider that crashed during the first race cope with the pressure of the second race on the same track? We could see riders crash, learn and win all in the space of three days, which would be a whirlwind of emotions for both racers and fans.
10. Does more time = better bike set-up?
Although many teams will have managed to have had testing camps prior to the first race week in Maribor and a few riders will have been at the World Champs in Leogang, the Slovenian World Cup rounds might be the first time that most of the riders are racing their new downhill bikes, meaning that changes in setups are likely to be made throughout the week.
Racing the same track twice and being able to make changes on the bike may offer some much anticipated data for the teams, allowing riders to change their setup between race one and two and evaluate the difference. In short, it will see teams accelerate through testing setups – be it wheel size combinations, cockpit setups, shock pressures and tunings – to be able to find the perfect fit in just one week.