To be fair, the new organiser (ESO Sports) and broadcaster (Warner Bros. Discovery) had a lot to sort out – running the premier mountain bike race series and beaming it out to the world is no small task. Especially when the bar had been set so high by the previous team, who had developed the running and coverage of the World Cups into a slick, compelling operation during a decade of growth. It’s probably best they left themselves some time to get things set up.
Aside from a few hiccups and despite the lack of communications between seasons, we think ESO and Discovery did a mighty fine job of round one of the downhill World Cup. There were several schedule changes during the week and some confusion as to media access, but all-in-all the event went smoothly, the action came thick and fast, and we enjoyed the added racing with the new semi-final for elites. Junior racing was broadcast live for the first time, meaning fans and brands around the world could get a better idea of the next generation’s speed, professionalism and promise.
Would we change anything? Well, we spent a lot of time wincing as riders hurtled into rocky, rough oblivion in practice: Lenzerheide’s course claimed so many victims we’ll only list the major names with major injuries here. Get well soon Amaury Pierron, Ben Cathro, Jenna Hastings, Wyn Masters, Jess Blewitt, Henry Kerr, Luke Meier-Smith and everyone else hurt. Maybe the venue needs a break (it isn’t on the calendar for 2024), perhaps downhill is just that nuts these days that a few new safety regulations need to be put in place (we haven’t asked ESO about this but know they care about rider safety and are likely already working on it). We aren’t blaming anyone – the new-style course markings with smaller poles and soft crash pads looked like an improvement from where we were standing – and maybe there isn’t anything that can be done to reduce injuries in such an inherently dangerous sport, but we just hope someone’s got their eye on the ball when it comes to safety.
Anyway, what a race! Possibly one of Lenzerheide’s best. We LOVED the vibes and were excited to see Rachel Atherton back on course after basically four years away from racing. Atherton and Jordan Williams, in his first-ever elite World Cup, blew everyone’s minds with their performances, taking the elite wins. Meanwhile in juniors, Christian Hauser and Erice van Leuven stole the show and stepped into the newly found limelight with their globally-broadcast victories.
It was a pleasure to see so much racing during the week, with qualification and finals for juniors, qualis, semi-finals and finals for elites, plus a host of cross-country racing throughout the week too. Thank you to everyone who’s clearly worked so hard to make sure everything went well (we’re sure there are a few tired, but much-relieved folk at ESO right now). Sure, there are probably a few areas that can be improved on, but we’re confident that’ll happen as the season progresses. Long live downhill.
Look out for our downhill yearbook (Hurly Burly 2023) pre-orders opening soon.
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