French Downhill Festival at the Bike Kingdom Games
Like last year, the French downhill aces showed that the high alpine course in Lenzerheide suits them perfectly. After Myriam Nicole was able to defend her victory from last year in the women's competition and at the same time celebrated her first victory of the current season, the overall World Cup leader Amaury Pierron underlined his claim to the lead in the men's competition - much to the chagrin of Finn Iles, who has to wait for his first World Cup victory after a very strong performance.
Perfect run by Myriam Nicole - successful comeback by Rachel Atherton
The new downhill course in Lenzerheide presented the women's elite with some new challenges and guaranteed a thrilling race for the ecstatic crowd on the edge of the course and in the finish. After many lead changes at the beginning of the competition, the moment every downhill fan had been waiting for came after more than 1100 days: Rachel Atherton (GBR) made her race comeback, directly set a new best time and returned to the hot seat after more than three years - even if only for a few moments.
Valentina Höll (AUT), who started directly after Rachel, had to take high risk after a crash between the first and second split and stay fully on the gas, which succeeded especially well in the lower high-speed section. With a lead of almost five seconds over the grande dame of downhill, the young Austrian took the lead, but was also beaten shortly afterwards by Eleonora Farina (ITA). The Italian, who is considered one of the fittest riders in the World Cup, scored points with ultra-hard suspension, especially in the top section and came through the forest well so that it was enough for the interim first place despite losses further down. European Champion Monika Hrastnik (SLO) was behind her.
Now it was the turn of the reigning World Champion: Myriam Nicole attacked from the start and showed the most aggressive run of the day. Taking full risk at the top allowed her to create completely new lines in the forest and further down, on which she extended her already large lead more and more and finally crossed the finish line with a cushion of eight seconds.
For the last skier of the day, overall World Cup leader and local hero Camille Balanche (SUI), the direction was clear. Despite her high speed, the Swiss did not manage to match Nicole's aggressiveness and lost a few seconds to the Frenchwoman already in the upper part of the course. A missed braking point in the forest then brought the final decision. Instead of the long-awaited first victory at her home World Cup, she only managed a second place, albeit a safe one.
German hope Nina Hoffmann was again dogged by bad luck: With a flat tire right at the start, the Fort William winner had to settle for last place.
«I really needed the victory here in Lenzerheide. I was a bit afraid that Max would have a new favourite with Camille because she always wins (laughs). There was really a lot of pressure, and it wasn't easy. I needed that win. I had to make it.» - Myriam Nicole
«I made a few mistakes at the beginning. Then I tried to push, and it went quite well until at one point the mistakes became too much. I wanted to give everything, go fast. I am happy with my time. It is still faster than yesterday. That is always good. To finish on the podium is not a given. I'm super happy.» - Camille Balanche
«I had a good run. It's nice to be back here in Lenzerheide. It's a fantastic place. The last time we were here, I won the World Championships. Perfect for my first race after the birth of our baby. An enthusiastic crowd, a great location and a good course: Lenzerheide can do it all.» - Rachel Atherton
DHI Women's Elite Results - Top 5:
1st Myriam Nicole (FRA) 3:11.751
2nd Camille Balanche (SUI) 3:16.170
3rd Eleonora Farina (ITA) 3:20.184
4th Monika Hrastnik (SLO) 3:21.979
5th Valentina Höll (AUT) 3:22.963
Overall World Cup ranking DHI Women Elite - Top 5:
1st Camille Balanche (SUI) 895 Points
2nd Myriam Nicole (FRA) 795 points
3rd Valentina Höll (AUT) 586 Points
4th Eleonora Farina (ITA) 560 Points
5th Monika Hrastnik (SLO) 384 Points
Strong Pierron destroys Iles' dream of first World Cup win - The GOAT with strong third place
On the downhill course, which became drier and more demanding as the day progressed, there were no frequent changes in the lead. After Tuto-Ariki Pene (NZL) had been in the lead for a long time, Aaron Gwin (USA) took the hot seat until just into the last twenty riders, when Finn Iles (CAN), as the seventeenth-last starter, replaced the American at the top - and how!
The Canadian got off to a perfect start on his bike prototype through the new section of the course. With a flat body position, it went dynamically through the forest before Iles took the lead in the key section with a completely new line choice and crossed the finish line with a cushion of 2.5 seconds. Greg Minnaar (RSA), who followed directly behind, was on a hot-seat course for a while despite minor mistakes in the upper section, but finally had to take the lead just behind Iles.
This double lead was to last until the last rider. One after the other, Bernard Kerr (GBR), Matt Walker (GBR) and Andreas Kolb (AUT) took third place until only Dakotah Norton (USA) and Amaury Pierron (FRA) were still waiting in the starting gate. Norton, starting second to last, put everything into the run, both physically and emotionally, to finally reward his incredibly strong riding with a top placing. And it looked like he would for a long time: With an almost ideal run in the upper part and a perfect ride through the steep forest section, the American, in the lead, slipped away on the approach to the drop and had to bury all hopes for a podium and more in one fell swoop.
However, the happy end for Finn Iles was not to come. Amaury Pierron underlined once again that he is currently playing in a league of his own. After a fast start, the overall World Cup leader came into the steep section with a lead, despite some small mistakes, where he pulled even further away with a completely new line. With his usual aggressive riding, he didn't let anything happen in the lower dusty and slippery part of the course and finally secured his third World Cup victory of the current season with a lead of 1.3 seconds.
Austrian Andreas Kolb not only improved his own best performance with the final fourth place, but also set a new World Cup record for the Austrian downhill men. The Best Swiss was Lutz Weber in 27th place; the best German was Johannes Fischbach in 46th place.
«I am really satisfied. When I came here I wanted to win and try to do the combo of qualification and final. That's really great and gives a lot of World Cup points. However, it was a very exhausting weekend. The course is technically very difficult and very intense because it is quite short. You can't make any mistakes there. I spent so much time analysing - my brain is exploding. And for this track you need your brain rather than your legs. Honestly, physically, I'm fine. I managed to bring everything together in this final.» - Amaury Pierron
«I feel really good. The track changes have been giving me trouble all weekend. I've been making mistakes that I don't normally make. Then today I had this moment when I thought: just drive. And that's exactly what I did. I am super happy with the result. Second place is an excellent result.» - Finn Iles
«My run was actually not that good, I have to say. I made an extreme number of mistakes, one of which was huge, which I was really annoyed about. But I think when you make mistakes, you know you're pushing. A back-to-back podium is of course a next level of awesome. I don't know how to put it. It doesn't get any more awesome than that. Well, but winning is probably even more awesome.» - Andreas Kolb
DHI Men's Elite Results - Top 5:
1st Amaury Pierron (FRA) 2:47.555
2nd Finn Iles (CAN) 2:48.858
3rd Greg Minnaar (RSA) 2:48.685
4th Andreas Kolb (AUT) 2:48.865
5th Benoit Coulanges (FRA) 2:49.907
Overall World Cup ranking DHI Men Elite - Top 5:
1st Amaury Pierron (FRA) 830 points.
2nd Matt Walker (GBR) 556 points
3rd Benoit Coulanges (FRA) 515 points
4th Finn Iles (CAN) 501 Points
5th Danny Hart (GBR) 466 Points
Canadian double victory in the junior final
The downhill Saturday on the STRAIGHTline was opened by the junior men. Like last year, Canadian Jackson Goldstone came out on top. His big rival Jordan Williams (GBR) had to settle for 3rd place today behind Lachlan Stevens-McNab (NZL). In the junior women's race, Gracey Hamstreet (CAN) won for the third time this season, one second ahead of Britain's Phoebe Gale, who remains close on her heels in the overall standings.
«My run was pretty good! I am very happy all around. I just had a little mistake at the start of the run which spooked me quite a bit and took a bit of speed off me, but I was able to keep myself in the zone mentally. I'm really happy to have won here today. It's so much fun here in Lenzerheide, I love it here.» - Jackson Goldstone
«To be honest, I had a perfect run. I jumped a bit wide on the last drop, but that was okay. I'm just happy with the win.» - Gracey Hemstreet