The World Cup Downhill racing season is finally underway with the first two stops in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, and Leogang, Austria. With new bikes, new kits, a new format of racing, and new faces to mix up the competition, the RockShox Trek Race Team is up to the challenge.
Our latest episode follows Vali and Tegan through the ups and downs of competition at the highest level of the sport. In less than a week, the team experiences the full gamut of emotions and results. There's far more invested in their journey than we usually see from the outside looking in... get a glimpse beyond the race tape in Season 2 Episode 4 of Youth + Glory.
Everyone starts the season ready to see how their hard work, training, testing, and dedication over the off-season has paid off. As calculated as a World Cup athlete can be, there is no predicting your competitors on track, how the nerves will shake out, or what luck will be on your side.
Vali and Tegan kick off the first stop of the World Cup season in Lenzerheide with an electrifying new colorway on their Trek Sessions and matching Troy Lee Designs kits. The motivation is high heading into the week with Tegan sporting the No. 1 race plate and Vali donning the World Champ stripes.
New bike day, new kit day. First World Cup of the season, first time I’m really excited to go racing.
Tegan has the number one plate and we’re going to do all we can to keep it. It’s not really a lot of a stress, it’s more of a responsibility.
A Hard Pill to Swallow
With the new racing format, Juniors qualify on Thursday and race on Friday while the Elites qualify on Friday and race two back-to-back runs—Semi-Finals and Finals—on Saturday. For the Juniors, their weekend feels like it's over before it has even started. For the Elites, the mounting pressure of having to perform over three runs is palatable throughout the pits.
Tegan's weekend evaporated on Thursday when a mechanical slid him in P45. Despite holding the No. 1 plate for the weekend, Tegan was not a protected rider. Like many other riders out there, a simple puncture meant that Tegan could not move on to Finals.
Vali's Qualification run on Friday wasn't what she had envisioned, but she was ready to put the pieces together for two runs on Finals Day.
QUALIS Tegan - P45 Vali - P4
Expectations vs Reality
Vali dropped into her Semi-Finals on Saturday, knowing she needed to push hard to make up time from Qualis. A crash in a technical rock garden dropped Vali to P14, but as the reigning World Champion from the previous season and a P3 ranking from the 2022 World Cup Overall, Vali was a protected rider and could move on to Finals.
With the new format, there isn't much time to recalibrate before the final run. With less than a few hours to rehydrate and be ready to attack Finals, Vali did her best to ride a conservative Finals with no crashes. It was enough to land on the podium in P4, but not enough to satiate Vali's desire to be on top.
SEMI-FINALS Vali - P14
FINALS Vali - P4
I feel like I have expectations which I never really achieve if I want to, only when I don’t think about it.
Bringing it Home
Leogang has been Vali's Achilles' heel the past few years—a broken ankle contesting her first World Championships as an Elite in 2020, crashing in sight of the finish line in 2021, and crashing again in 2022, putting her out of contention of the podium each time.
When asked back in February what race she is looking forward to the most, she said "It's definitely Leogang. It's been a little bit of a pain in the a** the last couple of times and I’m going to try and change that. It’s my home track and I know what I can do there. And it’s time to do it."
A Clean Slate
Tegan cleaned the slate from Lenzerheide and brought his smooth riding tactics to his Qualis on Thursday. A P3 instilled confidence going into Junior Finals on Friday.
Vali's foreshadowing from February played out in her favor. She rode how she knew best—strong, confident, and defiant to her past's shadows. With 2.019 seconds on the field, Vali was just getting started.
QUALIS Tegan - P3 Vali - P1
Go Big or Go Home
Both Vali and Tegan showed up to their respective Finals Day to give it their all. While Tegan gave it his best shot with a sprained ankle, his best was a P18 on Friday.
Vali returned on Saturday with a fire in her belly. Despite having a second run within hours, there was no holding back. Vali threw down another stunning win in Semi-Finals with a 5.655-second lead.
If there was ever a perfect weekend to be on a tear, this was it... for Vali to prove to herself that she is capable of stringing together consistently fast runs with no mistakes in front of friends, family, fans, competitors, and even her own heroes. Everyone held their breath as Vali was the last to drop in Finals. With every passing split, Vali stayed in the green, crossing the the finish line 4.303 seconds faster than Camille Balanche, Rachel Atherton, and Monika Hrastnik.
My bike went so much faster in this run. It felt so much stiffer and brought me to the finish in first place.
What was noticeably different from her notable career wins—2021 UCI Donwhill World Cup Overall Champion and 2022 Downhill World Champion—is that Vali wasn't in disbelief over the result. She lined up in Leogang to ride her best, and she did. It was not luck that landed her the perfect weekend, and it was believing in herself from the get-go. When you are confident in yourself, there is truly no competition. It's just you, your bike, and the race track.
SEMI-FINALS Vali - P1
FINALS Tegan - P18 Vali - P1
Vali needed a bike that could go as fast as she could, and her brand-new Trek Session fit the bill. With rainbow stripes and a reminder to "Focus on Happy," Vali rode to her best and most meaningful result of the season thus far.
While the dust has barely settled from Leogang, the team has already hopped across the border to Val di Sole, Italy, for Round 3 of World Cup DH, June 29 - July 1. Perhaps there is less lurking in the shadows for Vali and Tegan, but this is the last push to gain valuable points before the season picks up again two months down the line. Don't miss a beat by following the RockShox Trek Race Team.