It was time for the 4X ProTour riders to travel south to Italy for round 4 of the 2014 4X ProTour in Val Di Sole.
The ‘Valley of the Sun’ rarely let’s us down but this year for the first time, rain was forecast for the whole week! Regardless though, this place will always deliver, rain or shine; with some of the finest racing taking place here over the years, it is a favourite for the crowds and the riders.
There were a couple of small changes to the track which really helped. Turn 3 had been extended and made higher to slingshot the riders towards the pro line straight better. It was a great change and really helped through the night. The rest of the track was unchanged from last year as this track simply doesn’t need any changes. It always creates fantastic racing. It is the longest track on the 4X ProTour, but with huge berms and plenty of space on each straight, the riders can move around and set up passes well in advance.
As always big crowds flocked to the track to watch both qualifying on Friday night and racing on Saturday night. Under floodlights, the drama unfolded.
On Friday night it was practice followed by qualifying. An hour and a half of practice got the riders on track and ready for qualifying. It rained a little but in all honesty it made the track even better. First up it were the women. Helene Fruhwirth has had some tough luck over the last few years on the 4X ProTour with some big crashes, but in Val Di Sole this year she looked on fire, taking the fastest qualifying time ahead of Alba Wunderlin and Alla Marcellini. With this race being on an IXS DH weekend, it was great to see Alba Wunderlin racing in her first ever 4X ProTour on her DH bike. Admittedly she was slow from the start gate, but once she got the DH bike going she was fast and looked to be a real challenger for Saturday night.
1st – Helene Fruhwirth – 51.641
2nd – Alba Wunderlin – 54.369
3rd – Alla Marcellini – 54.828
Next we’re the men. First rider on course due to his late entry was Michael Mechura. A couple of mistakes in his run would leave him down the qualifying list in 25th. Felix Beckeman was next up. It was crazy what happened on Felix’s run. A wheel spin just out of the gate caused a crash. He was up quick and fighting to qualify. Heading towards the pro line doubles, he unclipped whilst pushing hard to make up time and had a horrendous crash. After a couple of minutes he was up but would not qualify for the race on Saturday night. Scott Beaumont had a solid run finishing 5th; Hannes Slavik was riding well and posted the 4th best time. A surprise for most would be Tomas Slavik who qualified in 3rd. The new World Champion looked quick but it wasn’t to be. The home crowd went wild when local rider Stefano Dolfin clocked the 2nd best time. He looked quick all day and the clock confirmed it. The fastest rider though was Quentin Derbier. He looked to be the fastest man all day and with a run that looked like he was on rails, took his 2nd number 1 plate of the 2014 ProTour.
1st – Quentin Derbier – 44.315
2nd – Stefano Dolfin – 44.409
3rd – Tomas Slavik – 44.487
So it was time for racing on Saturday night. The rain that was forecast was on the horizon but thankfully did not arrive. The crowds, as always, came out in force and lined the track 5 deep from top to bottom. The first gate dropped at 20.30 and racing was underway. What a night it turned out to be…….
The men got racing underway and in the first round there was drama. Scott Beaumont accelerated out of the start gate and on his second pedal revolution exploded his chain and crashed out. Adrian Weiss, Mirco Weiss, Luke Cryer and Piotr Paradowski were also early casualties.
In the quarter finals, Lewis Lacey who was sat in 2nd overall in the points at the start of the night, found himself in 3rd in his race and eliminated. Aussie Blake Nielson and Marek Pesko were amongst the others knocked out in the quarters.
Semi final 1 and it was Quentin Derbier, Hannes Slavik, Simon Waldburger and Michael Mechura. Derbier got the jump and looked to be in control into turn 1, until he slipped off the drop and crashed out of the race. With the number 1 seed on the ground, Mechura led the way with Hannes Slavik close behind. These two were into the final.
Semi final 2. Tomas Slavik, Stefano Dolfin, Giovani Pozzoni and Benedikt Last were in the gate. 2 Italians in the semi final was a dream for the Italian crowds but could they make it to the final. The gate dropped and it was Slavik, followed by Dolfin. In turn 2 Benedikt Last dived inside and the move worked. He was in 2nd. The Italians we chasing in 3rd and 4th but across the finish line it was Benedikt last who secured his first ever ProTour final along with Slavik.
In the men’s small final, Derbier made an awesome gate and simply did not look back. He had a tough night but 5th place was his.
The women were first up for the main finals. Fruhwirth took gate 1, Wunderlin in 2, Marcellini in 3, and Polish rider Natalia Piwowarczyk in 4. The gate dropped and Fruhwirth took the early lead. The battle for 2nd was intense. With the position switching all the way down the track it was Marcellini in 2nd across the line ahead of Piwowarczyk and Wunderlin. The home crowd were going wild for Marcellini but the night belonged to Helene Fruhwirth. After so many years of racing 4X ProTour she took her first ever win. Also this was the first time an Austrian had won a round of 4X ProTour.
Onto the men’s race. The games started in the gate. Tomas Slavik took 1, Hannes Slavik took 3, Beni Last did not gamble – he took 4 leaving Michael Mechura in 2. There is a little history with intense battles between Slavik and Mechura but how would this turn out. The gate dropped and it was a drag race to turn 1. Slavik just edged it. Heading to turn 2 though and all 4 riders were level. In the turn there was a little bumping and it was Tomas Slavik out of the race and on the floor. Michael Mechura had the lead. Hannes Slavik was a little behind but chasing hard. Just before the rocks he made his move and dived inside taking the lead. It was so close as Mechura came back at him but on the last turn Slavik carried more speed and took the win – his first ever in 4X Protour. The celebrations in the finish area were incredible. Before tonight an Austrian rider had never won a 4X ProTour. Then in Val Di Sole they swept the men’s and women’s racing. A great night for Hannes, Helene and Austrian 4X racing.
So round 4 was in the record books. Just a little stat for those of you who may think 4X is predictable. In the women’s racing so far this year there has been a different winner at every round. In the men’s racing there have been 3 winners over the 4 rounds. Pretty impressive we think you’ll agree.
This race was 4X at its absolute best. Thank you to all the riders who raced in Val Di Sole, the crowds and the community who put the race on. It is an absolute pleasure to visit each year and without exception Val Di Sole always lives up to the expectation. The organisers at Val Di Sole were blown away by the crowds and the atmosphere and without doubt the 4X ProTour will be back again at this fantastic facility. 4X has come of age and the ProTour is proving week in and week out just how great this sport has become.
Round 5 of the 4X ProTour will take place on July 26th at Tomas Slavik’s track – JBC Bikepark, in Jablonec, Czech Republic. This track had its introduction to the 4X ProTour last year and is set to provide even more action this year. With huge jumps and Marosi’s wall ride pass, this race is already legendary. You have to be there to see it.