After a long break in the schedule to allow riders to return home for their national championships, the Downhill World Cup is returning for the second half of the season. This weekend’s race is being held in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada. MSA has been on the World Cup circuit since 1991 and has a mix of high-speed open fields, technical wood sections, rock gardens and big jumps. There shouldn’t be any bike park talk this weekend! Weather often plays a big part in this race, and rain is forecast again for tomorrow.
10 things to watch out for
1. It's all still to play for
There are now only three races left, but this thing is far from over. Troy Brosnan, Aaron Gwin and Josh Bryceland still all have a real shot at the series title. Gee Atherton and Sam Hill have their work cut out for them, and may need to rely on some good luck, but they’re not out of this just yet either. With 750 points left to be taken this season, all five of these guys are going to be fighting for wins right until the final round, which right now looks set to be as exciting as last year’s Leogang showdown between Atherton and Stevie Smith. Will these five all still be in contention after this weekend’s racing?
2. Can Hill repeat history?
The last time Hill found the top step on the podium at a world-level race was at the 2010 World Championships in, you guessed it, Mont-Sainte-Anne. The last time Hill won the World Cup overall, he did it by taking the points lead with a win at, you guessed it, Mont-Sainte-Anne, and holding on to it for the rest of the year. The high-speed, rough course obviously suits his motocross riding background – could he get CRC-Nukeproof their first win this weekend? A victory here would really reignite his chances of winning the World Cup overall.
3. Redemption for Smith
The Canadian Chainsaw Massacre wasn't happy with his European World Cup results – he'd set his sights on podiums and even wins for his return and fell short of these goals in both Fort William and Leogang. More fired up than ever and with nothing to lose in terms of points, he's more than capable of getting himself back on the podium this weekend. Last year Smith won this race and wouldn’t lose another World Cup all season long. He did this in the rain while many of his main rivals had dry runs. Oh, and this is his ‘home’ race.
Check out his incredible performance from last year here:
4. Bruni's next in line
Frenchman Loic Bruni was just one corner away from winning at Leogang back in June. The young rider has been knocking at the door for quite some time and is certainly next in line for a first World Cup win. His last-corner crash will have given him more motivation than ever to win this coming weekend and he’ll also be filled with confidence from being up at the split before the stack. Will this continue to be the most exciting season in recent history with a fifth winner in five rounds?
5. Atherton turnaround
Aside from a dominating performance in Cairns, Gee Atherton hasn't looked himself this year – something shown through his 10th and 12th place finishes at Pietermaritzburg and Leogang respectively. Luckily for him this is quickly becoming the season of inconsistency, and he's still very much in this championship fight. Will we see a turnaround in Atherton’s season this weekend?
6. The Bryceland wave
Josh Bryceland’s best results always seem to come in sets – once confident, he seems unstoppable. The question is, how long will this particular wave last? Since winning the Leogang World Cup he's also earned himself a national champion title, winning by over three seconds on a new 650b-wheeled Santa Cruz V10. Bryceland’s first World Cup podium came at Mont-Sainte-Anne, where he finished second. Will he go one better this weekend and keep the winning streak going?
Here he is riding the Mont-Sainte-Anne course with teammate Steve Peat:
7. Can Rach bounce back?
Elite women’s title favourite Rachel Atherton has had a rough battle with illness but after a convincing victory at the UK national championships she looks to be back on form, but is it too late? Atherton now sits 120 points back from Manon Carpenter in fourth place. If she can win both qualifying and finals for the next three races, she’ll gain a minimum of 150 points on Carpenter , giving her the title. We’ve seen this kind of dominance from her before – can it be done again?
8. The dirty jersey
Sam Hill has always jokingly called the leader's jersey the ‘dirty jersey’, because he'd prefer to pick it up at the final round without ever having to race in it. This weekend we’ll see Troy Brosnan wear the jersey for the first time. A win and a series of consistent podium finishes is how he achieved this – will he still be in possession of it next week? Troy seems to thrive on pressure, so maybe it’ll be a good fit.
One of the big questions coming into the season was where Aaron Gwin would fit in after his sub-par 2013 season. After finishing first in both qualifying and finals in South Africa, many expected him to repeat these performances all season long, but we haven’t seen those finishes out of him since that round. Now sitting second in points behind his Specialized teammate Brosnan after a mechanical in Leogang, Gwin will be eager to start making up the points deficit with a win this weekend. He made his World Cup debut at Mont-Sainte-Anne back in 2008 and shocked the mountain bike world by finishing in 10th place – a result no one could quite believe, because his first downhill race was a mere six months prior to this. Is Gwin about to take back control of this series?
10. Junior's last chance
Loris Vergier has a solid points lead in the Junior World Cup and has had by far the most impressive results throughout the season, but he scored no points at Leogang, giving Luca Shaw and Taylor Vernon a shot at the title. Shaw and Vernon need to start beating Vergier this weekend if they’re to have a chance at catching him in the points. With the series moving to North America and Vernon now finding podium speed, Vergier certainly has a fight on his hands.
Be sure to catch the race this weekend – it'll be broadcast live on Red Bull TV from 7.15pm BST on Saturday – and check back here next week for our race report!