Words: Mike Rose 

Photos: Nathan Hughes 

Round 2 of this year’s Downhill World Cup series visited the new venue of Bielsko-Biala in Poland. Riders knew nothing about this new stop or the track they would be racing on. Most had seen the somewhat notorious head-cam footage, and the initial opinions were a little mixed, expectations seemed low. But never judge a track by its head-cam, the reality was that it was loved by all. 

A mix of new school jumps and berms, intermingled with fresh sections that turned into ‘pure downhill’ once they had the first hundred or so bike tires through them. It cut-up nicely, roots, rocks and holes appearing. Good stuff. It was epic. Technically and physically demanding, it was a true test. Throw into the mix a few rain storms and you had a proper challenge. Bone dry and dusty one minute, drowned-out and muddy the next. Riders were constantly battling decisions on tire choice, suspension set up, lines, googles, etc. With the new track and the new qualifying, semis and finals timetable it was a busy few days of puzzling things out.

Qualifying and semis took place on Saturday (just quali for Juniors) with finals on Sunday. All the categories are so tight and competitive these days that just qualifying for the main event is an achievement in itself. Lots of big names fell by the wayside on Saturday. And so it was for many of the INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) and MS-INTENSE-Racing (MS) team riders.

Judging the pace and the speed of the track in the ever changing conditions was a skill in itself. Some went too slow and missed out, others went too fast and went down. Joe Breeden and Tuhoto Ariki both missed out on a semi final place, Joe agonizingly by just 0.071 of a second. Just how hard is it to qualify? Well there were 17 riders all on the same second!

“Despite fighting an illness all week, I felt great on the bike leading into qualifying, but became too complacent and cruised trying to save myself for the semi. Unfortunately I missed the cut. Positively I feel great on the bike, stoked with my setup, fit, healthy and fired up leading into Leogang and VDS in a couple of weeks” Joe Breeden.

Jacob Dickson slotted into 50th in qualifying, but finsihed in 43rd in the semi, missing out on a finals start (top 30 for Elite men). After her excellent 5th place in qualifying Eleonora Farina dropped down to 13th in the semi, also missing out (top 10 only for Elite women).

Ryder Lawerence finsihed in 45th in qualifying and missed out on the Junior finals, “I was struggling on this track quite a bit so I kinda chilled, which wasn’t enough to get me through.” There was some good news. Junior rider Oscar Griffiths qualified in 14th and then took 11th place in the finals. A great result for the young British rider, especially as the weather couldn't quite make its mind up what is was doing in the early part of the day when the Juniors came down. “I played it too safe with the rain, but I’m happy to get a solid result to build off.”

In the Elite women’s race Louise Fergusson had a great time. Fourth in qualifying followed up by sixth in the semi… she was in the ‘big show’. With only the top 10 women going into the final this was already a great result not only Lou, but the whole IFR team. When finals came around she admitted that she maybe played it a bit too safe, “A solid run, I need to trust myself a bit more, but I had such a good day. I was thinking a bit more, and safer… i.e. braking a bit too much. We changed my tires to dry ones, and I wasn’t sure how much to push. I’m just glad that I stayed upright!” Ninth place a whole bunch of points. Good times.

“I loved the track. The team setup was mint and I am very happy to get into finals with two solid race runs. Definitely building in the right direction and enjoying the learning process. I’ve got more to give in my finals but getting that balance of pushing and staying focused is key.” Lou Ferguson Next stop, Leogang, Austria, on the weekend of June 8-9.