The Women's Elite Podium Filled With New Faces

A Change in Women's World Cup Downhill is Upon Us

Photos Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull

We could be seeing a changing of the guard in women’s downhill racing. And it's not because three of the most competitive racers are out with injury, which will only be temporary. What’s happening now has more to do with how the absences are affecting the confidence of the competition.

Rachel Atherton is the latest top female racer to be taken out by injury. During the first day of practice, Rachel hit the last gap on the Les Gets track – a sort of step-down to a high-impact, flat landing. Rachel immediately felt a really strange discomfort in her right ankle. By her account after the impact she rolled the final two turns into the finish area screaming for help. Shortly after visiting the local hospital, Rachel learned that she had a suspected tear to her Achilles tendon.

She promptly departed for home but still dropped in on Saturday, only in a completely different venue. By the time Rachel’s competitors were racing on Saturday, she was already under the knife. There’s a long road to recovery after an Achilles tear, with estimates of up to one year to fully heal. Rachel will spend 6–12 weeks in a cast as the first step to the healing process. She isn’t wasting any time getting the ball rolling in the right direction either.

Marine Cabirou flat out in Les Gets

Marine Cabirou has been steadily building all season and is now so close to victory, she can smell it.

Marine Cabirou in Les Gets

Get familiar with this fast French woman. She's going to be on the top step soon.

But I don’t believe competitors like Nina Hoffmann, Marine Cabirou or Mariana Salazar have posted strong results purely because Rachel, Tahnée and Myriam are out with injury. It likely has more to do with these competitors seeing an opportunity and grabbing the bull by the horns. Each of these ladies looks impressively comfortable on the bike but when your top competitors are icons, it can be hard to build the confidence to shine against them. Tahnée Seagrave presented a similar opinion in the post-race show.

Mariana Salazar showed up in Les Gets and took her competitors heads.

Mariana Salazar of El Salvador showed up in Les Gets and posted her best result of the season.

Mariana Salazar in Les Gets

Mariana obviously likes flat out tracks but can she hold it together in places like Val Di Sole?

She promptly departed Les Gets for home but still dropped in on Saturday, only into a completely different race. By the time Rachel’s competitors were racing on Saturday, she was already under the knife.

These girls are talented and the level of competition is through the roof – despite the absence of the top three. Hoffmann’s race run in Vallnord the week before was on the edge and it looked like she was going to win the damn thing. Then she got a touch off-line and erupted into a cloud of dust. Salazar looked strong in Les Gets and was happily hitting the awkward bottom jump while some of her peers avoided it. She was so comfortable that she couldn’t understand why they had issues and when you see her hit it at race pace – bar tweak and all – it’s clear she’s ready for more podiums. And there’s a strong chance that Marine Cabirou will snatch a race victory from Tracey Hannah this season. Marine was only 0.6 back from Trace in both qualifying and finals in Les Gets, which surely has Tracey nervous. The overall isn’t hers yet.

Tracey Hannah racing in Les Gets

Tracey has been battling with Tahnée, Rachel and Myriam for years, but now has some hungry youngsters pushing her to go fast.

Probably the biggest indication of the revolution coming to women's downhill is the presence of Vali Höll and Anna Newkirk. Vali posted the fastest time of all ladies on the Les Gets track, crossing the line more than a second ahead of Tracey Hannah’s winning elite time. Although Vali's race was held on the track before the junior men's race and an hour of elite practice, conditions didn't appear to change much. We also need to remember that Vali is coming back from injury; her healing shoulder is still preventing her from riding her best. With her times regularly challenging the top women at each World Cup, and often double digits ahead of junior rival Anna Newkirk, there’s no denying Vali's pace.

Vali Holl eyes the clock at the finish in Les Gets

Junior female downhiller, Vali Höll eyes the clock as she rounds the final corner in Les Gets. Little did she know at this point that she would secure the fastest time of the day for all women.

Valentina Holl in Les Gets

Get used to this young lady taking her YT to the top of the World Cup podiums. She is undoubtedly the future of women's downhill.

Newkirk isn’t sitting back and letting it happen to her though. Instead, she’s motivated by Vali’s speed and is pushing forward. While the gap between her and Vali was close to thirteen seconds in Les Gets, Anna still posted a ninth-place time in the elite field. And there were almost 30 seconds between her and third place junior, Lauryn Chappaz. Vali may be winning comfortably, but she’s raising the speed and skill of the entire junior field in the process.

The Women's Elite Podium Filled With New Faces

Tracey Hannah may be on top now, but she's only a cat's whisker ahead of a field of new faces.

Vali posted the fastest time of all ladies on the Les Gets track, crossing the line more than a second ahead of Tracey Hannah’s winning elite time.

Would Vali have beaten Tracey if they raced in the same heat? I'm leaning toward yes but we'll have to wait until the 2020 season to see that battle. And although Vali's time was the fastest of the women in Les Gets, it doesn't matter. Tracey Hannah won the elite race and leaves France as she arrived, with the leader's jersey. Tracey says she’s happy about that, but Marine isn’t too far behind. With three rounds left, Trace needs to remain focused and continue to ride at her limit. If she doesn't, she risks falling behind the pack of high-speed ladies nipping at her heels, or letting Vali swell with confidence ahead of her promotion to the senior ranks in 2020.

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+2 Mammal Tim Coleman

I think Nina Hoffmann is going to be tough to beat next year. I'm assuming she'll be on a team.

In one of the Vallnord videos, Rachel made a comment that Gee warned Rachel, and other competitors were warned by their teammates, of the spot in the track where Hoffmann went down. Hoffman didn't have any teammate to warn her.

Having a season of experience, maybe a teammate to chat lines with, and someone to take care of navigating the venues should make Hoffman unstoppable.

Regarding Vali, Finn Iles commented in his vlog that he put a lot of pressure on himself to do extremely well his first year out of juniors, and he changed his approach for this year. It will be interesting to see if Vali Höll will take a season to get into the groove.


+1 Mammal

I forgot about Rach and others being warned by team mates of that section in Vallnord. Thanks for the refresh! I reckon you’re right too. Hoffmann seems to be taking a lot from each round, is visibly growing in confidence in her runs and with media, and should be on a team next year. I’ve been wondering if she’ll become the first female member of the Syndicate…

I reckon Vali will do very well next season. Finn was crushing in juniors but he wasn’t posting the fastest time of the day (unless I missed that). But it is true, the psychology behind jumping into the elite ranks must play some games with the riders. Next season will be even more exciting than this one we’re only halfway through!


+3 AJ Barlas Tim Coleman JVP

I think the Hoff will be the first Syndicate woman, for sure. Would be a great move for the team, and for her. I guess it also depends on other offers, she's making a pretty good case for herself this year. She's getting good race support from the Syndicate, I'd say they're the runners up.


+2 Mammal Tim Coleman

My fingers (and toes) are crossed it happens. As you say, Mammal, it would be a great move for both and it would be sick to see the Syndicate with a female member.


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