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Youth + Glory: Season 2 Episode 4

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.

(Left) Reflection of Tegan Cruz in his glasses. (Right) Vali Höll looking through her sunglasses.
Vali Höll and Tegan Cruz posing in their new red kits with their new red Sessions in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

Fresh Eyes

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.

Vali Höll on the track walk looking happy to race. Vali's mechanic, Mat Gallean is out of focus in the background studying the track.

New bike day, new kit day. First World Cup of the season, first time I’m really excited to go racing.

–Vali Höll

(Left) Vali Höll placing the final touches on the toptube of her bike. (Right) Looking up at Vali's Trek Session with World Champion stripes on the seat tube with RockShox Super Deluxe Coil rear shock in full view.
JT Evans and Tegan Cruz standing with the No. 1 race plate in the RockShox Trek Race Team pit.

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.

–JT Evans

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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.

Tegan - P45
Vali - P4

Vali Höll racing her Qualification run in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

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.

Vali - P14

Vali - P4

A series of Vali crashing in the rock garden in her Semi-Finals run in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
Vali Höll in the final stretch of her Finals run in Lenzerheide, Switzerland looking very intense.

I feel like I have expectations which I never really achieve if I want to, only when I don’t think about it.

–Vali Höll

Elite Women's podium in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. (Standing Left to Right) Vali Höll, Camille Balanche, Rachter Atheron, Nina Hoffman, Marine Cabirou.

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."

Vali Höll warming up on her trainer in Leogang, Austria.

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.

Tegan - P3
Vali - P1

(Left) Tegan racing in his Qualification run on Thursday. (Right) Vali racing in her Qualifications run on Friday.
A moody shot of spectators on course at the Leogang DH track through the lens of the B netting.

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.

Vali dropping into her Finals run in Leogang, Austria.

My bike went so much faster in this run. It felt so much stiffer and brought me to the finish in first place.

–Vali Höll

(Left) Vali Höll dropping into her Final race fun in Leogang, Austria. (Right) Vali Höll about to cross the finish line on the final jump.
Vali Höll looking at her race time in her Final run in Leogang, Austria.

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.

Vali - P1

Tegan - P18
Vali - P1

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Vali's Accomplice

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.

Frame: Trek Session
Fork: RockShox Suspension
Rear Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Coil Ultimate
Seatpost: Truvativ Descendant
Handlebar: Truvativ Descendant
Drivetrain: SRAM X01 DH
Brakes: SRAM Code Stealth
Rotors: SRAM HS2
Tires: Continental Kryptotal Fr/Re
DT Swiss Ex 511 with 240 Hubs 
Ergon SMD2
Ergon GFR1 

Bike beauty shot of Vali Höll's Trek Session.
(Left) A close-up of a Super Deluxe Coil on Vali's bike. (Right) A top down shot of Vali's "Focus on Happy" sticker.

Time for a Doppio

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.

Follow @rockshox_trek_raceteam

A black and white photo of Kuba Gzela and Tegan Cruz laughing and looking at a phone.

Video by Kuba Gzela. Photos by Sven Martin. Words by Sarah Rawley.