The first round of the World Cup Downhill for 2018 went to a new location - Lošinj, Croatia.
The World Cup Downhill season has got underway in Lošinj, Croatia. And the reigning World Cup winners from 2017 have picked up where they left off on the rocky slopes.
France’s Myriam Nicole and America’s Aaron Gwin have won their respective elite category races at the opening round of the 2018 UCI DH World Cup.
Lošinj in Croatia was one of the rarest of things in downhill racing; an unknown quantity. The top flight of international racing has trodden a familiar path around the world for the past years and tends to stick to a group of familiar hillsides. Many talked the track nestled amid the Adriatic archipelago down; it was set to be the shortest of the year and pre-race head cam footage revealed a straight-forward charge through a rock-littered wood before an urban push for the line.
But no sooner had the UCI World Cup circus reassembled for the new season than they were proven wrong. The brutal rocks were in places axle deep, speeds were high and navigating swiftly to the bottom required traversing a series of drops and gap jumps.
Right from the start, it felt like a race which may just surprise. In the elite men’s timed training, Brook Macdonald, newly-rejuvenated and back on the team and bike which he had ridden on to his debut and as yet only World Cup victory back in 2012 topped the time sheets. He would go on to repeat the trick in qualifying and looked like making it a double.
In the women’s race the open book of 2017 seemed to remain open; any one of the top four of Myriam Nicole, Tahnée Seagrave, Tracey Hannah and Rachel Atherton looked capable of taking the win.
It was Atherton, still very much on the comeback trail after an injury-blighted 2017, who drew first blood in qualifying. Nicole admitted to an untidy run however and conceded that changes remained to be made to her high-pivot Commencal bike.
Come racing and the champ proved her calibre by setting a scorching time. Hannah had crashed on track and it has eclipsed that set by Seagrave. Only Atherton stood in her way but the vastly experienced Briton couldn’t stop Nicole. Nicole took the win ahead of Atherton and Seagrave with the French pairing of Marine Cabirou and the Enduro World Series champion, Cecile Ravanel rounding out the podium.
In the men’s race, the drama continued. Brook Macdonald’s wild style saw him pushing to the very limits of adhesion and tragically for him, he pushed past them. He crashed at the end of the high speed drop section and after being attended to by the trackside medical crew, rolled down to commiserate with his fans. American Dakotah Norton finished the day a career best fifth just behind a resurgent Sam Blenkinsop who many had seen as one of the pre-race danger men.
Third place went to Australian Dean Lucas whilst second went to 21 year-old American Luca Shaw. The Santa Cruz Syndicate rider was over the moon with a career best finish at the end of a weekend where he had just gone faster and faster in every session.
There would be no stopping Aaron Gwin however. Going for a record sixth career title and an unheard of four in a row, the Californian set about the rocks of Croatia with gusto. His lower section seemed scrappy but the damage was done long before he got there as he went about his now customary business of making the rowdy look calm and controlled. No matter where he qualifies, regardless of what he has done over the course of a weekend, Gwin has a different gear come race day.
Kye A'Hern took 3rd in the Junior Men's race, proving that Canyon Factory Racing made a solid bet by signing this junior.
The whole World Cup has a long way to go this year, but the opening podiums show who will be in the hunt.