The iXS European Downhill Cup continued this weekend with the fourth leg in Pila, Italy. A highly challenging course and changeable weather conditions turned the race into a nail-biting thriller. In the end Robin Wallner and Floriane Pugin were the victorious winners.
Pila, located in the Aosta Valley, has been a firm fixture on the European Cup circuit for three years now and is also a truly special venue. The small village of Pila is located at an altitude of 1800 metres high above the town of Aosta, itself in the border triangle of Italy, Switzerland and France. The view of the surrounding mountain ranges including Europe’s highest mountains is in itself something special. The topographical details of course also reveal quite a lot about the level of difficulty of the course, designed by former World Cup legend Corrado Herin. The route begins at 2300 m above NHN and then runs downhill to Pila for 2.6 km and 520 metres’ altitude, making it without a doubt one of the most attractive of the European racing series. So came as no surprise that 342 riders from 29 countries were on the starting line. They had to cope with changeable weather conditions ranging from extremely dusty to totally wet.
The seeding run for the women’s category on Saturday took place on a completely dry track with Emmeline Ragot (FRA - MS Mondraker Racing) showing what could be achieved on it, finishing in 4:23.744 min and with a more than 6 second lead. Conditions were more difficult by the end of the men’s category with the last 80 riders in the class having to contend with heavy rain, making it pretty difficult to compete with the times recorded previously. At that point Cesar Rojo (ESP - Mondraker), ex-World Cup rider and current developer at Mondraker had set the best time of 4:03.046 min. No-one was able to get anywhere near this time, with the exception of local hero Lorenzo Suding (ITA - Pila Black Arrows), so the starting order for the final was thus clear and it wasn’t possible to predict with any certainty what the results on Sunday would be.
Sunday again started dry but the heavens opened already during the training session. As a result the course was from the outset no longer dusty, as also well-demonstrated by the times recorded. On average the competitors needed another 20 - 30 seconds to complete the course. And, just as on the previous day, the Elite Men class was affected most as the last 100 riders or so were faced with heavy rain, making the numerous roots and rocks in the upper section in particular unpredictable. The riders who had started early thus had completely different conditions, enabling Robin Wallner (SWE - Team Åre Bikepark) to record a time of 4:17.309 min which no-one else had been able to match by the end of the day. Second place went to Oscar Härnström (SWE - Pila Black Arrows), who was also able to benefit from the early dry conditions. Best able to cope with the subsequent wet course was Joshua Button (AUS - SC Intense), taking third place just two tenths of a second behind Härnström. Damien Spagnolo (FRA - MS Mondraker) came fourth, as on the previous day, once again proving that he can always be counted on to produce a good result under such conditions. The fifth spot went to Ruaridh Cunningham (GBR - POC/Alpine Bikes), who had already shown his talent in extreme conditions with his win at Innerleithen. Leader of the overall rankings is now Spagnolo with 301 points. In second place is Wallner (275), followed by Markus Pekoll (AUT - MS Mondraker / 271), Brook MacDonald (NZL - MS Mondraker / 257), Johann Potgieter (RSA - Canfield Factory Team / 237) and Cunningham (226).
With over 20 riders the Elite Women class put up a good field, promising an exciting race. Alba Wunderlin (SUI - Veloatelier Biel) set the initial best time, which remained intact until Elisa Canepa (ITA) took to the course. Following this the only remaining riders to tackle the course were the previous day’s fastest. The first was Emilie Siegenthaler (SUI - Scott 11) who crossed the finishing line with a lead of more than 8 seconds. Her time was, however, immediately beaten by her team colleague (FRA - Scott 11), who shaved off another 2 seconds. Only current World Champion Emmeline Ragot remained in with a chance to block the Scott 11 women’s double victory. Following a fall she however only managed to finish the course with a four second time lag, forcing her to settle with third place. The winner was thus Floriane Pugin with a time of 4:53.291 min. The leader in the overall ranking is now Ragot with 122 points, head of Siegenthaler (87) and Rachel Atherton (GBR - GT Factory Racing / 86 points).
The Masters category saw what was virtually a wire to wire win, because after Wilfred van de Haterd (NED - YT Industries) had a flat tyre in the seeding run he was first onto the course, meaning that he was immediately able to take his place in the Red Bull Hot Seat. He only left it after the last rider in the category had crossed the finishing line and he was the clear winner. Van de Haterd was thus also able to secure his lead in the overall ranking. Second place went to Heinz Hostettler (SUI - Banditbike.ch), meaning that he is also hot on van de Haterd’s heels in the overall ranking. Maik Höhne (GER - Bikeland 262) finished in third place.
U17 category riders Ferran Jorba (ESP - Moto Club Sant Andreu) and Loris Vergier (FRA - US cagnes) slugged it out over both days in a neck-and-neck race. The Spaniard was able to win the duel on both days thanks to leads of just a few tenths of a second. Third place went to German young hopeful Ferdinand Brunold (GER - Mag41.com Racing Team).