29″ Wheels Help Italian Veronika Widmann Excel at World Cup Downhill

Pro mountain biker Veronika Widmann shares her bike setup, favorite riding spots, and two things most of us didn't know about her.
Photo: Dan Griffiths

With a third place finish overall in the 2019 UCI World Cup downhill series, Italian gravity rider Veronika Widmann finished all eight rounds inside the top ten last season. Widmann lives in the Sud Tyrol region of Italy, near the northern borders with Austria and Switzerland, where there are loads of steep and rowdy trails for her to train on. In a season-long battle that ended with France’s Marine Cabirou in second and Australian Tracey Hannah on the top step, Widmann fought hard every weekend to earn the highest position of her racing career to date.

With racing on hold, and Italy on lockdown, Widmann has been putting in long hours on the road bike across the UK to maintain fitness. We had a lengthy chat with her between training sessions, where she shared secrets like the fact that she’s not superstitious, she drools in her sleep, and other important race-related tidbits.

Photo: Dan Griffiths

Toward the close of the 2019 season, there were rumors that the team Widmann was riding for would be developing a new DH bike after a winter of research and design work with their sponsored athletes. The team sponsor, INSYNC Bikes, makes all manner of commuter and hybrid bikes, yet their elite downhill athletes were all riding YT Tues frames. Just before the calendar rolled over in December of 2019, a newly hired CEO at INSYNC informed the team that they had decided not to sponsor the racing program any longer. This came as a shock for the team and many of the INSYNC employees.

World Cup teams typically solidify sponsor relationships for the following season before the current one is even over, with managers booking hotels and sorting logistics as soon as the next season’s calendar is finalized. When INSYNC pulled out in late 2019, the riders and team management were left in the lurch. Widmann’s manager, Harry Molloy, was able to piece the program back together with a number of new and old sponsors, and Flow Style Racing is ready to take on the gravity scene in 2020. Their updated list of supporters includes Flow Style, Funn, Maxxis, Bluegrass, Extreme Shocks (EXT), Shimano, Smith Optic, and Five Ten.

Photo: Dan Griffiths

Over your DH career, what bike or gear innovation has made the most significant difference in your ability to perform on race day? 

Actually, the change to 29” wheels made a big difference for me. I just feel super comfortable with them. Since I’ve raced on 29” wheels, my results have improved a lot.

After several consistently impressive seasons in a row, have you changed anything about your training or bike from year to year?

I think, 2017 was just a really difficult season. I didn’t really feel comfortable with the gear and the bike and the suspension. That was a big hit for my confidence. Then in 2018 we got on new bikes and rode a lot, and my confidence improved a lot. I’m still improving and constantly getting better. I wouldn’t say I’ve changed big things, but definitely little things. My training definitely is a little more professional in the last few years.

Photo: Dan Griffiths

What are some of your favorite places to ride near home?

There are so many, it’s hard to choose. There are a lot of all day tours where you can climb the mountains. I think my favorite trails are my home trails around Tramin, since I do them all of the time and I know them so well. For downhill trails, there’s Paganella Bike Park and Plan de Corones. Then, maybe for enduro, the area around Passo Resia is really nice, where there was the Three Country’ Enduro Race. It’s all connected with the border of Switzerland, Austria, and Sud Tyrol.

Can you share a little about the riding in Sicily you did for the Bluegrass Eagle video?

That was just amazing. We shot on two different islands. The first one was Lipari. Both of them had a volcano and the one on Lipari is not active anymore. It was so bright white, and we rode in the white sand. The second part of the shoot was on Stromboli, and that volcano is still active. That was a total contrast because the ground is black, and it looks like a moonscape on top of the volcano.

What we appreciate […] is she is fully committed to the MTB world, way beyond just racing, through women’s camps and promotion of her region. Her great 2019 season doesn’t come out of nowhere. She has had a constant progression over the years. She’s definitely one of the fastest riders in the World Cup circuit, and we are sure she will be even faster in the years to come.

-Ulysse Daessle, MET/Bluegrass

What are some of the things you had to change when switching from XC to downhill?

Definitely the jumps. Maybe now cross country is more in that direction of jumps and manuals. The tracks have changed a lot. But when I was racing cross country everything was fairly neutral and not built. When I started downhill I really had to start form zero to learn all of those skills. I was already nineteen years old at that point, so not so young to learn all of those skills. So that was a big challenge for me, and it is still. I’m still struggling sometimes with jumps.

Photo: Dan Griffiths

Now that new schedules are getting sorted out, what does your coming season look like?

The first race will be in Lenzerheide, which is kind of a surprise because that race shouldn’t be in the schedule this year. I’m looking forward to it. Then we have three races back to back. Then it’s World Champs and the last two races. It’s gonna be two really intense months. Especially with the last two races having two races in one venue. I think that’s going to be really challenging and interesting to see how it will happen. It’s new for all of us. I’m really happy that we have a season, so I’m looking forward to it.

Longtime sponsor Dominic Loh from Funn Components also has fond memories of working with Widmann.

I would say the first time we meet was at Fort William World Cup in the 2017 season. That was the first time we met and my impression is she is not really a big girl by her build and she should pretty smooth on her runs on the downhill course. Turns out that she is the one that rode the hardest among the boys and she smashed and destroyed our pedals that very weekend. I wish I had a picture of the taco-ed Mamba Pedals (I am serious, it’s literally tacoed). We realized then that we would have a winner and a good working relationship as the feedback that she gives will help us with the design. By the way, to this day, she is still the record holder for the number of destroyed pedals. We like it because that is how you push the limits of the product you design and produce. 

Also, she went out of her way to mentor McKenna Meerten from the USA and spends many weeks in San Diego coaching her. This is really passing on the skills and value to the next generation.

Dominic Loh, Funn MTB Components

Have you heard anything about the IXS European Cup or Italian national Championships?

I heard that there will be a couple of IXS races. Maybe for people from Europe we can travel a little bit, but it’s going to be hard for people from America and Australia to even be able to come over and cross borders and all that stuff.

Is there someone regularly close to you in the world cup pints or results?

Last year for the overall, I was really close with Kate Weatherly in the points all of the time.

Photo: Dan Griffiths

What is something that the MTB race community doesn’t know about you? 

I’m not superstitious. ‘Let’s do one more run together!’ I also dribble in my sleep, haha.

Do you feel supported as an athlete by your local community?

Yea for sure. There is quite a big riding community back home in south Tyrol. It means a lot to me when they come to local races like Val di Sole to support me. It’s funny they are always giving me banter for being the pro but still hate it when I’m faster on the trails. 

The clutch question for an Italian. What is your favorite gelato flavor?

I love mint chocolate and nocciola. 

YT Tues bike check

Photo: Dominic Boulding

Is there anything unique or particular about your bike setup?

I run my rebound quite slow. I’ve tried many times to speed it up, because everybody says that on fast tracks you need it. I’ve tried it, but I always end up going back.

Is that high and low speed rebound?

Both, but mostly the high speed rebound.

  • Fork – EXT is developing a special prototype 
  • Shock – EXT Arma HBC, spring: 375 lbs
  • Wheels 29” – Front: DT Swiss FR511 Rear: DT Swiss FR560
  • Tires – Maxxis Minion DHRII 3C set up tubeless
  • Saddle – Funn Components Skinny 
  • Seat Post – Funn Components Crossfire 
  • Seat Clamp – Funn Components Frodon 
  • Handlebar – Funn Components Kingpin 30mm rise 760mm wide
  • Stem – Funn Components RSX 30mm rise
  • Headset – Funn Components descend upper and lower headset
  • Grips – Funn Components Hilt
  • Brakes – Shimano Saint
  • Shifter – Shimano Saint
  • Derailleur –  Shimano Saint
  • Cassette – Shimano 25/11 t
  • Chain – Shimano HG
  • Chainring – Funn Components solo narrow-wide ring 34t
  • Chain Device – Funn Components Zippa DH bash
  • Cranks – Shimano Saint
  • Pedals – Funn Components Ripper 
  • Mudguard: Marsh Guard

We would like wish Widmann the best of luck through this condensed racing season, even if she’s not superstitious.