Words by Mike Rose
Photos by Nathan Hughes
Lenzerheide in Switzerland is a picture-perfect location, it’s chocolate box pretty, in fact it’s almost like walking into a child’s drawing of an alpine scene. Beauty, style, pure crisp mountain air and one hell of a difficult downhill race track. Forget the cows with their bells, and the piles of chocolate and cheese, this is downhill racing at its trickiest.
This is the sixth time that the World Cup has visited Lenzerheide and it is a track that, although it hasn’t changed that much over the years, still keeps riders puzzling. It’s got the usual mix of roots and rocks, crowd pleasing drops and jumps, but Lenzerheide feels a little bit different. It kind of has a bike park vibe, but it also has the feel of a rough natural downhill track that has had some use over the years. It feels compact, and it is actually the shortest track (time wise) so far this year. Add into that a loose, rocky and dusty surface on top of hardpack and you have a challenge on your hands.
It’s steep, full on, with some big compressions and hits, there really are no smooth lines… there’s a lot of technical stuff to work out and link together. Riders have to constantly move around on their bike, adjusting to the varying flow of the track. And there’s no real let up. The nasty ‘rock garden from hell’ near the top of the course (which was a massive headache for all of the riders in the past) was gone, and interestingly large parts of the course were taped really wide. Watching some of the riders earlier in the week on the track it almost looked like some of them were cheating, the new ‘inside lines’ being so far away from the original racing line that it’s hard to believe they were on the same track!
For the first time in a long time race day took place on Saturday, with qualifying on Friday. With Aaron Gwin still out with an injury all of the INTENSE Factory Racing team’s focus was on Neko Mulally and Seth Sherlock. Both riders put in solid performances in qualifying, Seth in 46th and Neko in 52nd. A great result for both of them, and more importantly, they were in for Saturday’s finals.
Come race day it would turn out to be pure French domination. Myriam Nicole took the women’s race and then soon after Loris Vergier stood on top of a podium that featured four of his fellow countrymen, with only the UK’s Laurie Greenland breaking up the French party. For Neko and Seth it was mixed fortunes. Even though it was mainly sunny and dry for finals there had been some light rain for some riders, and unfortunately that included Seth and Neko. The track was already tricky, but add in a some greasiness, slippy rocks, ever changing levels of grip and the added uncertainty of just how hard to push, and it made the whole thing even more difficult. Both riders still put in solid runs, Seth finishing in 46th and Neko in 50th (almost exactly mirroring their qualification positions), but we just have to think “what could have been?”
“A bittersweet race. I was feeling great on track, but right before my run it started to rain, which made track pretty slippery and threw me off a bit. I ended up making a big mistake in my run which cost me a couple seconds. I’m not satisfied with my performance but happy to have made it into finals and scored some good points. Feeling good coming into Snowshoe.” Seth Sherlock
“Conditions were tough at the start of the race with some rain coming down during my run. I wasn’t as confident as I needed to be in that situation. Looking on to better days at the finals in West Virginia.” Neko Mulally
As this season’s World Cup series draws to a close, and with track walk on September 11th, riders have just seven days to rest, recuperate and then get themselves to Snowshoe (USA) for the final two back-to-back rounds. Hopefully Aaron will be fit and able to ride and we can have the whole team together again for the end of season finale on ‘home soil’.
Snowshoe Round 5 Sept. 15th, Round 6 Sept. 18th.