Words by Mike Rose
Photos by Nathan Hughes

Val di Sole is a scary track. It’s steep, fast, littered with roots and rocks. It is no place for the faint hearted, especially with the added pressure and adrenalin that comes from a World Championship’s run.

And what of the World Championships? A one-off race, the gold medal and the chance to wear the rainbow stripes for the next 12 months (and for life on your collar and cuffs)… there really is no bigger prize. Some would argue that the multi-race World Cup overall series, with its different locations and tracks, is more important, but there is a romance and history that goes with the World Champs that can’t be matched. One day, all or nothing, winner takes all. It is sport and racing at the extreme end, and we love it.

Unfortunately the run–up to this year’s champs didn’t go well for the INTENSE Factory Race team. Aaron Gwin crashed badly a few weeks ago at the US National round in Mountain Creek, having to then miss the Maribor World Cup, but he was hoping that he could return for this race, but it was not to be:

“I’ve been doing everything I can to get my back healed-up since my crash. I’m making good progress for such a short amount of time but I’m still a little ways out from being at 100% or even able to ride.”

Frustratingly Val di Sole is a track that Aaron has always performed well on, in fact he has won more races than any other male rider on this track, four in total (2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017). The steep and relentless challenge is something that Aaron has thrived on in the past.

There was more frustration for first year senior Seth Sherlock. We are still not really sure why he failed to meet the Canadian national team’s qualification criteria, but he wasn’t selected. National federations can sometimes be a little bit infuriating, the situation was made even worse by the fact that Seth was staying over in Europe to race the next round of the World Cup in Lenzerheide, so he was primed and ready to go. Like we say, it was a frustrating situation, and one where nobody comes out winning. Nothing beats actual race experience, and nothing is quite as big as the World Championships. Seth could have learnt a lot.

So that left all the team’s hopes on the shoulders of Neko Mulally… no pressure then! After a nasty crash in Maribor just over a week ago Neko would once again find himself between the tapes and ready to go, this time a few hundred miles to the west. And even though there is a selection process to get to race the World Championships, those riders outside of the current top 20 world rankings still have to qualify. In dry conditions on Friday afternoon Neko put in solid run, qualifying in 59th position. He was in.

Race day came, a mixture of overcast conditions, with bright sun and a bit of rain… so typical mountain weather then! Unfortunately it was not to be for Neko. He finished in 48th position with a time of 3:46.934. It is tough at the top, of that there is no doubt. And of course we have to congratulate Myriam Nicole, who took the women’s win, and the unbelievable Greg Minnaar. At nearly 40 years old Greg is definitely an extra–special athlete. If he was thinking about retirement he’s going to have to forget that now, he’s got to wear the rainbow stripes for the next 12 months!

The racing never stops. Next Saturday (Sept. 4th) sees round 4 of this year’s World Cup from Lenzerheide, Switzerland.