This year, the newly established "Mountain Bike World Series," which merged the "UCI Mountain Bike World Cup" and the "UCI World Endurance Series," is about to enter its ninth event in Andorra. This relatively unfamiliar country will host three competitions: the Cross-Country Short Track (XCC), the Cross-Country Olympic (XCO), and the Downhill (DHI) races. Tucked between France and Spain, Andorra covers only one-fifth of the area of New Taipei City and has a population of around 80,000 people. Due to its historical evolution over the past millennium, Andorra boasts a unique national system, with its co-princes being the President of France and a Spanish bishop. The country is devoid of its own military forces, as defense is a shared responsibility between France and Spain.
Situated deep within the heart of the Pyrenees Mountains, the entire region is mountainous, earning it the nickname of "Land without Three Li of Flat Ground" in Europe. Despite the absence of an airport or train station within its borders, Andorra's geographical advantages, combined with its past history of duty-free incentives, have transformed it into a renowned skiing destination. Tourism contributes up to 80% of its GDP. Although the total length of its national borders is less than 120 kilometers, it boasts over 350 kilometers of ski slopes. These ski resorts used for winter activities turn into mountain biking parks during the summer months.
Since its first hosting of the World Cup in 2008, Vallnord Mountain Bike Park has accumulated eight rounds of races, including the 2015 World Championships, and next year's championship will also be held here. The newly introduced World Cup track last year has been shortened to a mere 1.4 kilometers in length, with an elevation change of 427 meters. Athletes can complete it in under three minutes, making it relatively short for a World Cup track.
August is the hottest month in Andorra, with temperatures reaching up to 36 degrees Celsius. The track, situated at an altitude of around 1,900 meters, features loose soil. During practice, riders behind often end up eating the dust of those in front. Several artificial berms designed to facilitate high-speed turns have been heavily worn down by the athletes' training sessions, resulting in sizable brake bumps. Coupled with the fractured geology of the area, the track's surface is scattered with loose rocks. Even in dry conditions, tire grip is constantly changing.
This type of terrain is particularly evident in the initial grassy sections of the track. Following a few large dirt slope jumps, riders are immediately met with high-speed berms and brake bumps upon exiting the turns. These elements consistently challenge the riders' ability to balance speed. To seek speed is to subject one's body to intense vibrations. To seek stability inevitably requires reducing speed. Furthermore, the presence of shattered rocks and dust-covered potholes means that even though the track is short, there is no place for rest.
Due to the relatively sparse forest cover in the track area, even when entering the shaded wooded sections, the dryness of the surface remains consistent with the earlier parts. Additionally, with sudden increases in slope and loose geological conditions, after several days of high-intensity practice, the ground is often carved with deep ruts. While this location doesn't have the terrifying root mazes of the Alpine regions, the challenging part of the forested area is the deep grooves interspersed with rocks. Last year, during practice, many riders fell victim to this challenge and got injured.
Although this relatively straight track is short and has a fast rhythm, its overall speed is quite high. It features several metal bridges spanning across the snow-covered pathways. These bridges are equipped with rubber padding for skid prevention, and two of them even have 90-degree right-angle turns. The variations in tire contact and the frustrating angle designs have raised safety concerns for many teams. Especially concerning is the bridge at the finish area, followed by a 90-degree right turn and a steep descent. The riders' speeds are significantly increased due to the preceding large slope, and even if the speed hasn't increased, riders tend to engage in a final sprint acceleration. To manage such high-speed flat turns, riders take the widest possible turning radius, and the high-speed turn immediately followed by a steep descent causes the bike to momentarily become airborne when entering the slope, making the bike land on the outer side when it touches down again. The metal ramps here are quite narrow, and all these elements contribute to potential accidents.
Last year, Canadian rider Finn Iles experienced a situation like this, almost falling off the slope entirely and even colliding with the nearby safety padding. Falling off the slope at such speed and height would have had catastrophic consequences. However, the organizers were likely startled by Finn's firsthand demonstration, and this year's finish area will be altered, hopefully preventing similar avoidable accidents from happening again.
In the past, Andorra has hosted a total of nine rounds of the World Cup or World Championships, yet it has produced as many as seven different champions in the men's elite category. The frequency of changing leaders in the "Hot Seat" has been quite high. Each champion's victory holds significant meaning for themselves.
2023: Thibaut Daprela
2022: Loris Vergier
2019: Loic Bruni
2018: Loris Vergier
2017: Troy Brosnan
2016: Danny Hart
2015 // World Champs: Loic Bruni
2013: Rémi Thirion
2009: Steve Peat
2008: Gee Atherton
In 2008, British rider Gee Atherton secured his second World Cup win at this venue. Notably, his teammates, older brother Dan and sister Rachel, also clinched victories in the Four-Cross (4X) and women's elite downhill races, respectively. The three siblings collectively earned three championships at the same event, setting a record that might not only be unprecedented but also unmatched. In 2009, British rider Steve Peat achieved his 17th career victory here, surpassing the previous record of 16 wins set by the French rider known as "The Alien," Nicolas Vouilloz.
In 2013, after years of effort, French rider Remi Thirion secured his first World Cup win at this venue while representing the Commencal team. The 2015 World Championships saw French rider Loic Bruni clinch the gold medal and don the rainbow jersey for the first time. He stands as one of the few athletes who won the World Championships without previously winning a World Cup event.
2016 was a breakout year for British rider Danny Hart, as he accumulated four World Cup victories, three of which happened that year, with the Andorra race being his third consecutive win. In 2017, Australian rider Troy Brosnan secured his second World Cup win at this venue, three years after his first victory.
The 2018 and 2019 champions were both from France: Loris Vergier and Loic Bruni. Interestingly, these two half-brothers are the only pair to have each won twice at this location.
The history of the women's elite category is relatively straightforward. British rider Rachel Atherton dominated the Andorra track after accomplishing the seemingly unbreakable record set in 2008 by her brothers. She secured five victories, including one in the rainbow jersey. However, Rachel, who recently gave birth, is currently in a semi-retired state.
2023: Nina Hoffmann
Backed by strong support from TRP, the Commencal Muc-Off team is based in Andorra, with a downhill trail named "Commencal" even located within the Vallnord Mountain Bike Park. This race can be considered a home event for the Commencal team, as they are intimately familiar with both the climate and the track conditions. Unfortunately, Amaury Pierron is still in recovery from a spinal fracture, and while he's unable to compete, he's present at the event to analyze the track conditions and be with his teammates. On the other hand, Myriam Nicole is still dealing with the lingering effects of a concussion, preventing her from attending. We hope both of them make a full recovery soon and we look forward to seeing their impressive performances on the track once again.
Currently, the only elite rider in the team, Thibaut Daprela, has been gradually adapting to the new format of "Eliminator - Quarterfinal - Semifinal - Final" in the first three rounds, steadily improving his rankings. In the previous race in Val di Sole, Italy, he claimed the third spot on the podium. In this round held in Andorra, Daprela lived up to the advantage of his home team, delivering an exceptional performance in extremely unpredictable weather conditions, and secured the first place in this event!
Intense Factory Racing's leading rider, often referred to as the "American Captain," Aaron Gwin, has been unable to compete in the previous races due to a hand injury. Whether he will participate in the Andorra race remains uncertain. Team member Dakotah Norton didn't make it to the finals in the previous round in Italy, but he managed to achieve an impressive 10th place at the World Championships. In this round, he secured a decent result in the qualifying session. Unfortunately, the finals were affected by sudden rain, causing the track to become slippery. As a result, riders adopted a more cautious approach, narrowly missing out on victory.
All of the above mentioned teams and riders are using TRP DH-R EVO & EVO Groupset.