Words: Mike Rose
Photos: Nathan Hughes

It’s been just over nine months since the final World Cup of the 2022 season in Val di Sole, Italy. That weekend was one that the INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team of Aaron Gwin, Dakotah Norton, Joe Breeden and Seth Sherlock won’t forget in a hurry. Dak in third, Aaron in fourth and IFR winning Team of the Day. It was a great end to the season.

And now here we are, the second weekend in June and everyone is absolutely ‘mad for it’.  Everything is prepped, everyone is ready, it is GO TIME. The first Downhill World Cup of the year from Lenzerheide in Switzerland is here.

When Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) took over the running of the newly formed UCI Mountain Bike World Series towards the end of last summer we knew that there would be changes, and I don’t mind that, but it will take at least one race for me to get my head around it all. It is safe to say that everyone (racers and fans alike) are still trying to work out how the new arrangements and race schedule will work.

Let’s take the race this weekend. It is XC and DH, which means that the downhillers will be racing on Saturday. Course walk Wednesday, Thursday will be practice/training, then Friday see’s the first of the big new changes where the full field of riders (usually anywhere from 120 to 200+ riders) will try to qualify for the first of the two ‘live’ events that take place on the Saturday. 60 men and 15 women will go through from this qualifying stage to the semi finals on Saturday morning, which will start with the women at 11am local time.

From this semi final only 30 men and 10 women will go through to the ‘main event’, the finals, which start at 1pm local time. Now just to add another layer to this, if you are a racer and you finsihed in the top 10 overall (men) last year then you are fully protected, you still have to ‘race’ qualis and the semi final, but your spot in the main event is secure. If you finsihed in the top 20 at the end of last year then you automatically qualify for the semi final, but you then have to qualify (top 30) for the finals. You still have to race the qualifier. And there are points at each stage, so each is important at the end of the day. Confused!?

What this means for the IFR team is that Aaron, who finished 8th last year, is protected all the way to the finals. But for Dakotah, who finished 16th, he is only protected up until the semi finals. Joe and Seth are not protected at all, so in order to progress they will have to qualify on Friday.

They will be well aware that a mechanical, a puncture or a crash on Friday’s qualifying could mean that it is game over! It’s harsh. And I’m not going to even mention the Juniors (go on then: Qualification on Thursday, race on Friday, feet up on Saturday!). And the points have changed too. It is now 50 points if you win qualifying, 100 for a semi final win, and 250 if you win the final. So the max points available over the weekend is 400.

It is all a bit confusing, and I may have got some of the details wrong, but I am sure that after a race or two we will become used to it. The Warner Bros. Discovery deal aims to give us more of the action and more of the good stuff. If you are already signed up to WBD then it will be ‘free’ for you to watch. You will be able to watch the racing live if you have GCN+, Eurosport or Discovery+ (or any affiliated products, as an example BT Sport in the UK).

Good luck to everyone. We can’t wait for the racing to begin.