Val di Sole preview: Everything on the line at the last World Cup race of the year

A dramatic World Cup season is coming to a close. Here's everything you need to know:

The 2022 Mountain Bike World Cup biking season comes to a close this weekend in Val di Sole. A long season that began on March 26 for downhill and April 8 for XC is somehow near its end. But although the weeks seemed to speed by, there was enough action and drama to fill a tome. 

This was the year of highest highs and lowest lows for the Trek Factory Racing squads. To the good: Loris Vergier and Jolanda Neff both won World Cup races before taking World Championships podiums, Vlad Dascalu racked up podiums weekly and young riders like Maddie Munro established bright futures.

On the other end: Crashes, injuries, illness. Riders missed a lot of race time, particularly on the downhill team where three-quarters of the squad — Reece Wilson, Kade Edwards and Charlie Harrison — were all forced to sit multiple races. 

But despite the setbacks, Trek riders made the most of their opportunities. This has been a season of incredible comebacks and gritty rides, through pain and mud and blood. In Val di Sole, riders like Dascalu, Wilson and 2021 World Champion Evie Richards are eager to leave a lasting mark. Get ready for a dramatic finale to a breathless season of mountain bike racing.

Vlad showing love to the crowd in Andorra.

Jolanda fighting for the win in Mont-Sainte-Anne.

Elite XC: A chance to make a memory

After taking second at World Championships, Jolanda Neff said that it had been a “big step for me” in a season when nagging injuries and illness left her feeling less than 100 percent. Despite battling something nearly every race, she managed to secure a World Cup win and her third ever elite XC World Championship podium this season.

Vlad Dascalu, Evie Richards and Anton Cooper are all trying to find the grace notes to their seasons in their own ways.

Anton Cooper on a picturesque descent in Andorra.

Evie on the charge in Albstadt.

Dascalu’s season can’t be considered anything other than a success, especially in light of his own challenges, but his first career World Cup win remains tantalizingly just out of reach. Richards has proved everything she can at her level, but back issues derailed her plans for a big season in the rainbow kit. And Anton Cooper has had a rough late season stretch of illness and injuries after rounding into excellent form in May and June.

The course in Val di Sole, like in Les Gets, features lots of roots and rock gardens where riders can take a lot of ground if they have the legs to muscle through. In other words, it’s a great race to make a statement if you can. And TFR has no shortage of riders with both the ability and the motivation.

Reece is BACK.

Elite DH: A big return

Since the Lenzerheide World Cup downhill finals on July 9, Loris Vergier has been the only rider on the DH squad to suit up for TFR. In Val di Sole, he should have a teammate again. Reece Wilson is planning to suit up after bowing out of the last five World Cup races due to injury. By all indications, he’s amped to be back on his Session.

With Wilson racing, Val di Sole would feature three elite riders who have won World Cup races on a Trek bike, two of whom — Wilson and RockShox Trek Race Team’s Vali Höll — have won World Championships.

Vali going wild after her win in Andorra.

Loris completing a perfect weekend for the Trek Session in Andorra.

The downhill track in Val di Sole is infamously difficult. It’s steep at an average gradient of 22 percent, and features tight, twisting sectors and plenty of rocks and roots. Both Vergier and Wilson had strong runs at World Championships on the course in 2021, albeit with minor setbacks that left room for improvement. Höll posted the fastest time in qualifying last year, but fell during her finals run and had to settle for 12th. All three riders should be hungry to perform on a course that leaves no room for error.

They are all capable of absolute magic on a downhill course. But no matter what happens, Wilson’s return is worth the price of admission by itself. The Scottish rider is one of the savviest and most personable riders on the downhill circuit. Race day is always more fun when he’s involved.

Maddie headed for a podium in Mont-Sainte-Anne.

Young guns hunting podiums

U23 races don’t typically receive as much attention as the elite, but they offer fascinating insights into developing riders, and often the most stunning performances. When young riders don’t yet know what they’re capable of, they’re liable to surprise even themselves.

Riley Amos experienced that phenomenon in 2021 when he won in Leogang. And in 2022, teammate Maddie Munro had her own come-up during a late-Summer stretch in which she won a U23 national title, then took back-to-back World Cup podiums — third and second in Snowshoe and Mont-Sainte-Anne, respectively.

Riley Amos celebrating his podium finish in Andorra.

Bjorn Riley on his way to a U23 U.S. National Championship.

That’s just the TFR squad. Trek | Vaude has also had an excellent season incubating young stars. Bjorn Riley won the U.S. men’s U23 national title, then took second in Snowshoe and fifth at World Championships. His teammate Luisa Daubermann was second in Snowshoe as well, and seventh at Worlds. 

Trek has plenty of young riders who can vie for the Val di Sole podium, if not the win. Amos may be the most interesting to watch as he gets close to 100 percent following his recovery from a broken collarbone. But don’t sleep on any of Trek’s U23s. They are all anxious to make a big impression on one of mountain biking’s biggest stages.

Don't miss the comeback.

How to watch

Red Bull TV once more will carry the live broadcast in Val di Sole, and once more you can click here to watch, no need to pay a thing

XC short track racing will take place Friday beginning with the women at 5:20 p.m. local/11:20 a.m ET, and followed by the men shortly after. 

The women’s elite downhill final will be broadcast at 12:25 p.m. local/6:25 a.m. ET on Saturday, and followed by the men’s final at 1:45 p.m. local/7:45 a.m. ET.

And finally, the women’s elite XCO final will take place on Sunday at noon local/6 a.m. ET, with the men soon after at 2:30 p.m. local/8:30 a.m. ET.

Enjoy your last taste of mountain biking World Cup goodness before next spring. It should be a blast.