Last weekend the long off-season finally came to an end as hundreds of riders celebrated the opening of the iXS downhill season 2019 in Maribor! At the end of an exciting day, Matt Walker and Tracey Hannah took home the first title of the season.
It’s that time of the year again! The iXS downhill season 2019 finally started with one of the most anticipated races of the year! This weekend, the iXS European Downhill Cup has been opened in Maribor. And since it was scheduled only one week before the first race of this year’s World Cup which also takes place on the very same track, many riders of the world’s downhill elite made their way to Maribor a week early, creating one hell of a start list this weekend! All in all, 440 athletes from 36 nations registered for the race leaving another 50 riders on the waiting list, hoping for a last-minute chance.
Maribor’s track had been modified during the off-season creating a course that matches our understanding of the perfect track for an EDC race! After all, Maribor has always been and probably will remain one of the favorite venues for many riders for a reason!
As always the opening race of the season first and foremost serves one purpose: checking out the competition to evaluate your own status for the upcoming season. In general, no one knows if the training sessions and preparations will pay off when the season starts and everyone is looking forward to finding out. In addition to the riders’ levels of fitness, another important variable always is, of course, the right equipment. Many riders changed teams, got new bikes or both during winter and especially the new UCI regulations concerning different tire sizes left some room for speculation.
Friday started with the track walk during which most of the riders seemed to be rather pleased with the track and the changes made, judging from their grinning faces, so the stage was set for two interesting weekends of downhill racing in Maribor!
The first official 6-hour training session started rather slow, but shortly after noon the track was as crowded as it gets and the lift was working at full speed. While some riders already chose their lines, others still struggled with their setup and after what did not seem to be 6 hours at all, the first day of the EDC season 2019 had already come to an end.
Saturday morning greeted the riders with sunshine and mild temperatures – the perfect conditions for both the track and the race and the air seemed to be sizzling with anticipation. And, of course, Friday’s relaxed atmosphere slowly but surely turned into a more focused one, while the athletes started to concentrate on their upcoming qualifying runs in the afternoon. During the last training session everybody was working on improving their runs, choosing their lines and getting up their speed (– everything while constantly updating their numerous social media accounts, because – as you all know – if you don’t serve your followers with enough content you basically do not exist…well, whatever…). The top riders of the Elite Men category then had a rather long break before their runs. After all, the last run of the day was scheduled not until half past six for Danny Hart (GBR - Madison Saracen Factory).
But in the meantime, there was still a lot going on in the qualifications: Vali Höll (AUT - SRAM-TLD Racing), who provided us with an impressive course preview together with Tahnée Seagrave (GBR - Transition Muc-Off Factory) on Friday, set the best time in her category with 3.58,368 minutes. Among the Juniors Thibaut Daprela (FRA - Commencial Vallnord) was fastest, setting a time of 3.18,326 minutes. Tracey Hannah (AUS - Polygon UR) showed everyone that she used her time well during the off-season, when she set a 3.44,840-minute best time in the Elite Women category. And at the end of the day, the fastest rider was Troy Brosnan (AUS - Canyon Factory Racing) with his best time of 3.14,470 minutes among the Elite Men.
Sunday started with another 4-hour training session. Once more the overall conditions were on point and the track was soon crowded with visitors and fans. At half past noon the Masters category officially opened the race. Benny Strasser (GER - Magura Santa Cruz) was not only the youngest, but also the fastest rider in his category, followed by Jelle Hemelsoen (BEL - Loose Riders), in second and Frank Hedwig (GER - RAD-ART) in third place.
After the Masters it was time for the youngest riders to show their skills. Izabela Yankova (BUL - Riders United) dominated the female U17 category with Siel van der Velden (BEL - BMX Pernes) and Anastasia Thile (GER - BBS Youth Syndicate) completing the podium. In the male U17 Nuno Reis (POR - Commencal) set a time of 3.31,998 minutes which brought him the first place, while Davide Cappello (ITA - Team Scoutbike) finished in second and Alexandros Topkaroglou (GRE - A.P.O. Koropiou) in third.
In the U19 female category Valentina Höll has once more proven to be exceptionally talented setting the best time of 3.43,176 minutes which even would have brought her the second place among the Elite Women. But also Anna Newkirk (USA - Sram Young Guns) and Mille Johnset (NOR - Atherton Bikes) delivered impressive runs and completed the podium in second and third.
Next up was the Elite Women category, which only consisted of 30 riders this weekend, sadly missing some of its odds-on favorites. Last year’s winner Myriam Nicole (FRA - Commencal Vallnord) could not even make it to Maribor due to an injury, Tahnée Seagrave decided to sit this one out in preparation of the Worldcup and only attended the training and Emilie Siegenthaler (SUI - Pivot) crashed during a training session and reached the same decision. But, of course, there were lots of other high-ranking athletes left in this category! At the end of the day, Tracey Hannah succeeded again with a best time of 3.41,094 minutes and a 4-second gap towards Nina Hoffmann (GER - Juliana Bicycles) who finished in second place. Even though Hoffmann’s downhill career only started not that long ago, she already made quite the career and we are looking forward to what is next. Monika Hrastnik (SLO - Dorval AM Pro Racing Team), who is now supported by a professional team finished in third place and a successful season seems to lay ahead.
The U19 category included 70 athletes and they delivered quite a show with times that would turn out to be close to those of the Elite Men’s podium. Again Thibaut Daprela set the best time with 3.14,500 minutes, which was close to Brosnan’s time during qualifications. Ethan Shandro (CAN - Trek Factory Racing) and Kye A’hern (AUS - Canyon Factory Racing) completed the podium.
Then it was finally time for the long awaited Super Final of the Elite Men category in which the fastest 30 fought for the title. And they were in for one hell of a competition. At the end of the day places one to three all finished within one second, but Matt Walker (GBR - Madison Saracen Factory Team) succeeded by setting the best time of 3.10,017 minutes – only split seconds faster than his team mate Danny Hart.
This is already the second title for the 19-year old after the opening race of the British Downhill Series last week. Charlie Harrison (USA - Trek Factory Racing) finished in third place, followed by Dakotah Norton (USA - Unior/Devinci Factory Racing) in fourth and Philip Atwill (GBR - Cube Global Squad) in fifth place.
Maribor once more was the perfect host for the opening race of the iXS EDC season with its mix of perfect weather conditions, a demanding but fun track and a great overall atmosphere. Now the stage is set for a long and exciting downhill season. It is safe to say that his weekend once more has proven that downhill is the greatest discipline in the world. The next stop of the EDC will take the riders back to Slovenia in only two weeks’ time with EDC #2 in Kranjska Gora. See you there!