Photos: Nathan Hughes and Ale di Lullo
Downhill mountain bike racing can be a cruel sport, one minute you are winning a DH national on home soil, then seven days later you are hitting the deck and dusting yourself down in a different country... on a different continent. And so it was for Neko Mulally at round 3 of this year’s Downhill World Cup from Maribor in Slovenia.
But let’s rewind a little first. There is no way to sugar coat it, things started off badly for the INTENSE Factory Racing team when number one rider Aaron Gwin crashed badly at the US National in Mountain Creek (where Neko won). Aaron was coming down for his first practice run when he hit a large rock that had rolled onto the track just after a blind rise. A big over-the-bars, in what was a freak crash, saw Aaron land flat on his back and in a lot of pain. Thankfully he would walk away, but it would mean that he was unable to race in Maribor.
Frustratingly Maribor was a track that Aaron would have loved… high speed, with the perfect gradient for racing and most importantly, it was bone dry. A mixture of deep and loose dust with hardpack, blown-out corners full of wheel swallowing holes, web-like root sections, off-cambers, wide open grassy pistes, the usual mix of natural and man made jumps, even a bit of tarmac at the finish… and of course the infamous rock garden, a heart stopping jumble of stone that the Slovenian mountain gods decided to throw in just for a laugh! And the heat, don’t forget the heat, energy sapping, slightly oppressive… but better than rain hey!?
How hard to push? That was the question. Everyone at the sharp end knows that if you want to win you have to push, and push hard, because if you don’t then someone else will. As with all racing riders have to calculate the risks, where to go hard, and where to ease off a little, where to brake, where not to. The deep dust, as slippery as mud in some cases, was always in the back of riders’ minds.
First year senior Seth Sherlock was coming back from injury after breaking his wrist at round 2 in Les Gets. All was looking good for the young Canadian in practice, but agonizingly Seth would miss out on qualifying for the main event by the tiniest of margins.
“P61 today, 0.09 seconds off of the qualifying cut off. This one stings. No mistakes in my run or anything – just played it too safe. I think I've learned my lesson to not play it safe in qualies... time to put my head down and get back on the grind in preparation for (the next round in) Lenzerheide.”
It was better news in qualifying for Neko Mulally who slotted nicely into fifty-second position with a “safe run”. But as race day came around and the sun kept beating down it was just not to be. In his race run Neko unfortunately misjudged one of the jumps on the upper part of the course, resulting in a nasty crash. Sore and beat up, he was able to roll down the rest of the track. A disappointing end to the weekend for the team, but thankfully he seems OK, with no broken bones. We must congratulate both Myriam Nicole and Loris Vergier who took the victories… it looks like the French are on a roll!
The next round of this year’s World Cup takes place in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, on September 4th, but in just two weeks time there is the 2021 World Championships from Val di Sole in Italy. We are hoping that Aaron will be back for that race where he will join Neko and the rest of the US team.