For elite Cross-Country (XCO) and Downhill (DHI) racers, it all comes down to a crucial final race as the 2016 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano heads to the misty hillsides of Andorra in southwestern Europe. Three overall world cup titles are still on the line as is one history-making winning streak. Red Bull TV will carry all of the action live as it happens September 3-4, 2016.
In Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, downhill rider Rachel Atherton (GBR) clinched the 2016 women’s elite overall world cup title; her mission in Vallnord is to secure a perfect season and extend her world record-winning streak to an unprecedented 13 in a row. While Aaron Gwin (USA) is on track for a second straight men’s elite downhill title, Danny Hart (GBR) is within striking distance and both riders had a rough go on the same track last year at the 2015 World Championships. On the men’s elite XCO track, Nino Schurter (SUI) will take on his main rival and current points leader Julien Absalon (FRA). XCO women’s elite rider, Catharine Pendrel (CAN), is only 56 points behind points leader, Annika Langvad (DEN), so how they place could be as important as who wins the race.
The DHI and XCO races will take place at the Vallnord Bike Park in scenic La Massana, Andorra. Tucked in the Eastern Pyrenees Mountains along the border of France and Spain, Andorra is the sixth smallest country in Europe. The 181 square mile sovereign state is home to 85,000 residents, but more than 10 million people visit every year. Vallnord hosted the UCI MTB World Championships in 2015, serving up obstacles that shook up some of the best riders in the sport.
The 1.5-mile (2.41 km) downhill track, one of the longest and steepest of the 2016 season, adds an endurance element into the traditionally fast and technical downhill competition. After a quick start, riders cross two wooden bridges before a big drop and a steep, slippery descent. Rocks, roots and jumps then challenge riders in quick succession through the forest. A tight single trail leads deeper into the forest followed by more jumps, low hanging tree limbs, mud and more.
The exhausting track offers Aaron Gwin, the men’s elite points leader, his greatest challenge of the year and a chance at redemption. At the 2015 World Championships in Vallnord, he crashed deep in the forest and finished 74th, more than 52 seconds behind rival Loic Bruni (FRA) who won the prestigious rainbow jersey. Vallnord was no easy ride for Danny “The Redcar Rocket” Hart who is hot on Gwin’s tail for the 2016 overall title; last year, he finished 11th on the track. The top male World Cup downhill rider of all time, Greg Minnaar of South Africa (RSA), finished second at the 2015 World Championships, followed by Josh “Rat Boy” Bryceland (GBR). At the most recent World Cup race in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Hart won his second world cup race in a row, a mere 0.669 seconds ahead of Gwin; Bruni finished third. Both Gwin and Hart could emerge victorious in Vallnord if a good finish earns Gwin the overall title while Hart pulls the hat trick of three consecutive race victories.
All eyes will be on Rachel Atherton who added an unprecedented 12th consecutive victory to a winning streak that began in the 2015 season. In Mont-Sainte-Anne, she finished more than 11 seconds in front of second place Tracey Hannah (AUS). Will Vallnord provide a lucky 13th win or will any of the elite riders end her streak in 2016? Last year at the World Championships in Vallnord, Manon Carpenter (GBR) tried to defend her 2014 rainbow jersey, but came second to Atherton. Hannah finished third.
Altitude will be a major factor in Vallnord as the elite riders battle for oxygen and breathing room along one of the longest, tightest and the most challenging tracks of the season.
2015’s overall world cup winner, Jolanda “the Swiss Missile” Neff (SUI), got a late start this season and is currently ranked 13th in the 2016 points race; this leaves Annika Langvad up front on the starting line to continue her stellar 2016 world cup season. At #2 in the 2016 standings, Pendrel is hot on Langvad’s trail. The overall title will come down to how close Langvad and Pendrel finish near each other. If Langvad finishes second to Pendrel, the season will still go to Langvad. Last year on the same track, Pendrel was up front for most of the World Championship race but faded late and finished 5th; Langvad finished 16th. During the first week of August in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Pendrel finished on top while Langvad settled for 4th. Jenny Rissveds (SWE) and Maja Wloszczowska (POL) are racing in top form this summer and will provide stiff competition as this race unfolds.
On the men’s elite front, Absalon comes into the race a comfortable 160 points ahead of Schurter, who missed the last race in Mont-Sainte-Anne. Last year in Vallnord, Schurter came out on top a mere 10 seconds in front of Absalon. All Absalon needs is a top 10 finish to seal the overall title, but the hills of Vallnord can be very unforgiving. Maxime Marotte (FRA), Victor Koretzky (FRA), Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) and Carlos Coloma Nicolas (ESP) all have momentum going into this race and will surely give Absalon and Schurter a run for the Vallnord podium.