Words by Mike Rose
Photos by Nathan Hughes
Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. No sooner had it started than the World Cup season was over. In just four short months the world’s best downhill racers have travelled through the heart of Europe – Austria, France, Slovenia and Switzerland – finally ending up in the USA for the final two rounds at the Snowshoe double-header. Two action packed races held over a six day period.
Home soil (of sorts) for our US and Canadian based INTENSE Factory Racing team. Located in West Virginia, on the east side of the US, no transcontinental flights were needed this time around. And what to expect in Snowshoe? A well loved and worn riot of roots and rocks. Did I mention the rocks? There are a lot… an almost never ending chain of bike and body abuse. They call them ‘rock gardens’ but the only thing I could see growing in them was arm pump and stress! But it’s all good, this is downhill racing after all. Add into that jumps, drops and a mid-course sprint and you have all the ingredients for a perfect race. Snowshoe was a real test of physicality and commitment, and also of bike and suspension set up. Not the steepest on the World Cup circuit, the key was to carry speed and momentum through sections. It demanded a lot.
Again it was bad news from the IFR camp when we heard that Aaron Gwin was still not fit enough to race after his injury five weeks previously at the US national at Mountain Creek. It would be a disappointing and frustrating end to the season for Aaron, but he made the trip to Snowshoe to help and support the rest of the team… and the crowd went wild!
Race one (round 5) took place on Wednesday (Sept 15th) and with both Neko Mulally (33rd) and Seth Sherlock (47th) safely qualifying all was looking good for race day. But both riders, for differing reasons, would finish race day feeling somewhat disappointed. For Neko it was a case of “tightening up” too much, which resulted in a sub-par performance and a 41st place finish.
For Seth it was a different story, “I had one of the hardest crashes of my life in the practice lap before my race run. I ended up in the clinic and they cleared me to race just 30 minutes before my run. I was really sore and felt pretty shook but still decided to try and lay down a race run! I ended up riding super conservative but salvaged a few points.” Seth finished in 55th. Downhill is one tough sport.
With a super quick turnaround is was straight into the final round (6) of the season on a slightly different course. New sections to ride, new lines to learn, but all was looking good, the team was positive. But Snowshoe can bite you, and for Seth it bit hard in qualifying. Towards the bottom of his run he hit a rock and went over the bars, frustratingly he was in 42nd position before the crash, but he would eventually finish up in 65th, missing out on qualifying for the finals. “I had a crash in qualifying and missed the cut. Needless to say that's not the way I wanted my season to end – a tough end to a tough season.”
Better news for Neko, on his very sweetly painted retro M29 (which was raffled off for charity), and with a partially flat tire he put in a solid run qualifying in 52nd. Come race day, and in front of an enthusiastic and pumped-up home crowd Neko “added a bit spice… and got a bit wild” finishing up with his best result of the year in 33rd, just five seconds off the top 10. A great result on such a demanding and tricky race track, one where many others came unstuck.
Huge congratulations have to go to series winners Loic Bruni and Vali Holl, inspiring performances from them both under the most pressurized of circumstances. But we would like to send commiserations out to Thibaut Daprela and Myriam Nicole, both of whom had victory taken away from them at the last minute. Racing can be a cruel, cruel sport.
We would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the legendary Aussie ripper Mick Hannah who has retired from the sport after 20 years of World Cup racing. Back in the early 2000s Mick rode on an INTENSE bike when he was on the Haro team. We wish him all the best in the future, he’ll be sorely missed.
And that’s it, the 2021 Downhill World Cup season is over… do we really have to wait until next March for it all to start again!?