Val di Sole was the site of stunning wins, happy returns and the last gasp of a drama-filled season
Val di Sole encapsulated a chaotic season for the Trek Factory Racing cross country and downhill squads.
In downhill racing, Loris Vergier gave one of the most dominant performances of his career to secure his second World Cup win of the year and take second in the elite men’s overall. His teammate Reece Wilson returned from a nearly two-month absence from racing due to injury, and though he didn’t have the form to fight for his regular spot on the podium, he was all smiles to be back bombing down mountains on his Session.
In XC, more of what was a strong theme every week: A powerful podium performance by at least one rider, and some bad luck, both mechanically and physically, for the others.
As we wave goodbye to the season, take one last look at an emotional finale in Val di Sole.
Downhill racing: Loris Vergier and Vali Höll celebrate
Vergier’s season didn’t start like he’d hoped. He was 12th on a sloppy course in Lourdes, then flirted with the podium for three races without securing his spot.
But when Vergier broke through, he really broke through, winning qualifying and finals in Andorra. And just as he did then, Vergier looked like a man possessed in Val di Sole, taking P2 in qualifying before winning by a blistering three seconds on a punishing course. Previously, Vergier’s biggest winning margin at a World Cup was 2.65 seconds in 2020 at Maribor.
The result pushed Vergier up to No. 2 in the men’s overall rankings. He should be plenty proud of what he accomplished, and plenty motivated to climb one more step in 2023.
Vali Höll raced in the rainbow stripes for the first time since her stunning World Championship in Les Gets. She did the kit proud, taking third in the women’s final after taking first in qualifications.
Höll also finished third in the women’s overall standings, her second overall podium in two elite seasons after winning the overall in dramatic fashion last year. The women’s downhill field is getting tighter every year, but Höll has shown she’ll be a force in the sport for a long time.
Reece Wilson’s return to competition was one of the best stories of the weekend. His 47th place finish in the finals reflects a rider who is a bit rusty, but nevermind the result: Wilson completed a long journey back to full health with renewed vigor and a lot to look forward to in 2023. The Flying Scotsman is going to be full gas come June.
XC women's racing: Jolanda Neff and Evie Richards empty the tanks
On a Val di Sole course designed to create big gaps, Jolanda Neff held her own and finished off her strong closing stretch to the season with a third place. Since a tough race in Andorra, where she had to pull out of the XCO event due to illness, Neff has finished no worse than fifth in the four World-level races she has started, including taking second at World Championships. No one fought harder at the end of the season.
Evie Richards raced her first World Cup since May after taking time off to recover from back issues. The 2021 World Champion looked strong as she took seventh place on Sunday. More importantly, she, like Wilson, was reminded of why she loves racing. Richards will have plenty of fire in her belly this offseason.
Maddie Munro capped an excellent U23 season that included a national title and two podiums with a 15th-place finish in Val di Sole. The result locked up ninth place in the U23 women’s overall. There’s a lot to look forward to for a rider who has yet to find her ceiling.
XC men's racing: The rollercoaster ride comes to an end
Vlad Dascalu and Anton Cooper took 18th and 28th, respectively, in Val di Sole, well off their high standards of performance. Both riders limped into the race, Dascalu still recovering from a bad crash in Snowshoe, and Cooper struggling since a recent bout of Covid.
Both riders battled their fair share of adversity this season, but shined bright in spite of setbacks. Dascalu was a podium fixture through Snowshoe before finishing sixth overall. Cooper finished fourth in Nové Město and seventh in Leogang, making the duo the Best Men’s Team for two races in a row.
Dascalu and Cooper may be licking their wounds heading into the offseason, but they should have full confidence that they’ll regain their strides in 2023.