An extra day of practice feels weird. Riders aren’t building to anything on the gap day between Qualifying and Finals, it’s just another day to scope lines and find some extra speed. To say it was a little relaxed on track would be an understatement; cruise control was engaged 100%. Group B saw more action than A’s, which was unusual but welcome, as it was a little stale on the hill with XC World Champs happening all day… nothing like hearing a crowd roar while lazily waiting to hear a whistle somewhere up the hill signaling that something, anything was about to take place.
The Junior categories were firing off, as the youth still has the energy to enjoy riding on a chill day, while Elites saw a more conservative approach to the day, insomuch that a fair few riders of note took only 1 or 2 runs – many of them could probably ride the track at race pace after a single sight lap after all the years racing here; Minnaar has been to MSA 21 times… which is more times than Kaos has been alive, just for some perspective (a fact which was shared on track during a lull, by Kaos himself).
On a whole, a low key day while some amazing racing happening below – I was able to at least enjoy the live feed of Nino’s historic win [will need to watch Pauline’s on the replay], from the comfort of my room (after DH practice)… I’m not one for crowds, and it was a big one out there.
Some brief observations, regarding what riders were doing on track:
- Vali Höll is riding like MSA owes her money. Regarding speculation though, it’s hard to gauge the other contenders outside of Anna Newkirk and Millie Johnset, as the weather yesterday played havoc with the field: everyone automatically qualifying put no pressure on anyone to perform, so many of the riders elected to ride as cautiously as possible to preserve themselves for Sunday. With that said, the Junior Women’s field on a whole is looking really strong. One notable less-race-specific aspect of the group that I think is fun, is their comradery and the fact a large portion of them are actually friends. It makes for a lighthearted time on track and generally gives off a really fun vibe. Racing is serious business, but it doesn’t always have to be stoic.
- Elliot Jameson and Luca Cruz are looking like they really, really want to win on home soil, riding super consistently and quick. Thibaut Deprela and Seth Sherlock will be another two fighting over the win I think, though a lot of the Jr.’s have been looking fast – Kye A’hern has been flying. Yesterday’s top qualifier Antoine Vidal hit the deck and looked pretty beat up, which might play into Sunday’s outcome. Dante Silva and Zach Garies are two lesser-known American contenders who could be interesting wildcards for a podium position.
- Elite Women is going to be a battle. The rainy Qualifier did little to inform anyone about riding pace and based on what was happening between the tape, it isn’t clear who is leading as the favorite. Marine Cabirou is looking very comfortable on a whole and the French always seem to find an extra gear at World Champs. Tracey Hannah has momentum, which always plays in a rider’s favor. Myriam Nicole knows how to ride MSA and it shows in a big way. Tahnée Seagrave has won here before, but is returning after a bit of time off the bike, so only she knows what she can do right now. The regular World Cup podiums have been varied and we’ve seen a lot of different faces on stage this year, so really, anyone feeling “on” tomorrow is a threat/wildcard for a podium position or medal. It’s going to be a wild race.
- I don’t think I’ve seen a less interesting practice session in Elite Men than today. That isn’t to say riders weren’t getting wild and riding well, it’s just that it was a free day of “do as you like”, so most were just keeping it mellow and enjoying the freedom to not have to ride flat-out. Notable riders though: Danny Hart, he wasn’t hanging about today and looked super focused; Greg Minnaar decided to triple into his triple, safe to say he’s feeling the World Champs spirit; Loic Bruni and Finn Iles were executing as usual – all business there; Amaury Pierron was laughing each time I saw him, take that as you will. Luca Shaw flew by me at one point, and made me say “oh damn” and Loris Vergier saw a rainbow yesterday, both points of consideration.
Someone might just uncork a heater and surprise us all, across all four categories, MSA seems to inspire in that way.