Mountain biking is one of the few sports where you can line up alongside your role models and roll the same dice across the same table to see who wins. Every spring pro riders enter a few grassroots races to warm up for the World Cup, and this past weekend a sizable crew showed up at the Gravitalia race on the slopes of St Gréé ski resort in Viola, Italy. Names like Loic Bruni, Mariana Salazar, Brook Macdonald, Fabien Barel, Mark Wallace, Loris Revelli, Veronika Widmann, Wyn Masters, and Simone Medici were originally on the roster, and most of them made it to the race.
There was a common theme wafting the air on Sunday morning: it’s damn fine to be back on the race track for what looks to be a largely “normal” season.
The tracks in Viola offer more flow than most other Italian hills, with large banked berms and long tabletops. The race took place on the one black diamond track, aptly called Black Line, that splits the other trails down the center of the park. The short 3km descent starts off with some high speed turns, followed by a treacherous rock field, some root fields, and some proper off-camber leans before the finish jumps just to remind you that this is Italy. The track drops about 580 meters in short order, cutting a race lap that’s under four minutes for the fastest riders.
Spanish rider Mariana Salazar came in fourth in the pro women’s category, just ahead of Italy’s Sofie Riva who was riding what looks like a prototype DH bike from her sponsor Ancillotti.
Flat tires were almost as common as enduro bikes, with seemingly every tenth or twelfth rider playing a circular xylophone on the rocks as they rolled easy to the finish.
The greasy mud wasn’t everyone’s friend. A lot of riders wiggled through the rock garden above this drop and came unclipped before the following off-camber section. Current Italian DH champ Sofia Priori Viale did not look happy with this tripod posture that landed her in 8th position.
While the rocks and jumps are always entertaining, one of the best spectating locations is between all of them where the off-camber lean shows some creative body English.
While the men’s win looked guaranteed for one of the legendary visitors, Italian National Enduro Champion Loris Revelli earned the top spot, crossing the line almost two seconds faster than France’s Antoine Pierron. Revelli was the Italian DH champ in 2019 and he looks to have the fire lit for this coming World Cup calendar.
The crowd was more than a little overjoyed to see Revelli scrubbing this final table-top toward the winning line.
The current Italian men’s DH champion, Davide Palazzari, bested Revelli by one position last year, but it’s a new season and everyone is ready to go faster.
Swiss rider, Noel Niederberger, has the right kit colors to make a camera happy.
Mark Wallace was the lone North American rider at the event. Wallace earned a solid 23rd place to warm up for the coming World Cup in Leogang.
We recently interviewed Fabien Barel about tire development, and he made it sound like racing was in the past. Likely he meant that training for races with every second of his life is in the past, but clearly, he still likes to ride fast between the tape. The retired Barel came in an impressive 7th place, and he was the fifth-fastest Frenchman on the day.
Local bike repair shop owner, Francesco Terribile, laid down an impressive run to finish in 39th position amongst the stacked field of pro riders. When he’s not training or rebuilding suspension in his shop Terribile can be found teaching MTB skills to groups of groms in the hills of Turin.
Brook Macdonald looked confident and smooth cruising into 3rd place overall. The New Zealander suffered a nasty spinal injury after crashing not long ago, and his ability to return to the top of the sport is an inspiration to everyone around him.
Andrea Plando was one of several riders on an enduro bike in the elite race, and his Lapierre Spicy did well to land in 56th position out of 127 finishers. Roughly 20% of the athletes on track Sunday were aboard enduro bikes with single-crown forks.
Benoit Coulanges sending it for the fourth slot, and the second place French rider.
A small and stalwart crew of kids also slid down the rocky track, mostly riding trail and enduro bikes with ample padding.
Local pharmacist, and my personal riding buddy, Elia (Folle) Bozzola, put in a storming run on his Giant Reign to finish 14th in the Elite Sport category.
Turin tail-whip legend, Marcello Sanguigni, rode with as much style as a person can muster, finishing in 7th overall for the amateur men’s category.