World Cup DH at MSA
18 Sep 2014
On to the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup – MSA (along with Windham), being the event we scheduled the rest of the East Coast Rad Trip around. At MSA, it all goes by the name of “Vélerium” – a 4-day festival with much more than just the World Cup events taking place. So, if you’re planning on a visit here to ride, consider coming during this time. With the exception of the World Cup tracks, the gondola and mountain are still open to the public, so you get all the benefits of the festival, and watching the pros, as well as awesome riding that you’d get anyway.
(View of the team tents from the heli)
Before the World Cup racing got underway, we headed in to Quebec City – a half hour drive southwest along the Saint Laurence seaway, for the very cool Cité8 event. A round of the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour (a gold event no less), a world-class slopestyle course had been built right up against the fort walls of the old town of Quebec. With huge jumps, live music, a beer tent and the monster energy girls, this was one party not to be missed! As with the rest of the MSA visit, the weather was not the most helpful, causing an initial delay before the final event was actually moved forward to account for an impending thunderstorm! But in the end, Trek’s Canadian homeboy Brett Rheeder took the win.
Finally, it came to the World Cup DH. You probably don’t need much of an intro to the course – with the exception of a few tweaks here and there; it’s largely the same as previous years. Rolling straight out of the gondola lift station at the top, the awesome start ramp is unfortunately closed to public for the rest of the season. It’s straight in to fast turns over rutted terrain, plenty of lips to boost off, many of which are manmade. They actually start to prepare the World Cup trails (DH and XC) up to 2 months before the event itself, giving plenty of time to develop something super cool.
(Ramp for the World Cup race start)
(World Cup racers)
It then gets really technical in the trees, with major rock gardens that will eat wheels. There’s the famous line running straight down under the MSA gondola, always packed with spectators shouting at the riders going down, and those going up to the start as well – Ratboy got an awesome reception as he hung out the window of the cabin he was in as he headed up for his race run, ratcheting up the excitement levels a few notches. In the end he couldn’t quite pull it off, with Sam Hill taking the win, and making a long overdue return to the top of a World Cup podium. Great to see him return to the summit of downhill racing.
(World Cup racers)
(The crowd waiting for the next racer to blaze through)
Going back to the general bike park facilities – the Sport Alpins bike shop is the main hub. Run by Jean Pourcelot, they provide a great rental fleet of Scott Gambler 26 inch DH bikes, which are only 2 years old. And for next season, these will all be replaced with the new 27.5-inch Scott DH bikes – a clear statement of intent from MSA as to where they see the trend going! There’s only the 1 Norco B-Line rental available for kids, but there’s not much demand for it here. There trails are not really set up for beginners or kids either – there’s not a green beginner DH trail on the map. This is much more of an intermediate to advanced riding destination, so the rental fleet reflects that. However, things are a bit different from an XC perspective, with many more rentals available, hard tails or full suspension, and 26, 27.5, or 29-inch wheel sizes. And they do have little runner bikes for the really small kids to play around on the pump track!
(Um, dark ominous sky over Quebec City)
Opening hours are non-standard so make sure you check – the downhill trails are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday for example, all through the summer. There are a few options for lift passes, depending on what trails you want to ride; DH, XC, or both, but a standard adult day pass for unlimited gondola access will set you back $40 plus tax – fairly normal. There are guides available but this is for groups only and must be prearranged by phoning ahead. These are actually very popular and often heavily booked - mainly by XC oriented teams like the Canadian Military! There are lots of options for lodging at the base of the mountain, or a little down the hill you'll find another cluster of services; hotel, condos, chalets, etc. Among them, the Club Vacances Toutes Saisons which was our base for the week - fully equipped units for reasonable prices.
(The purple flowers of Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec)
You’ll need to keep in mind that this is most definitely the Quebecois culture here. It might not be very far from the US border in to Maine, from a geographical point of view, but it can feel like a long way from home! They don’t love their biking any less though, typified by the Mont Sainte Anne Cycling Club. Independent from MSA resort, the club organizes regular rides in the area, including the Sunday morning ride that often sees up to 300 kids descend on the trails! With Canadian hero Stevie Smith riding for Devinci Bikes, which is based only a couple of hours north of MSA in Chicoutimi, there’s no shortage of inspiration, or ability in this part of the world. There were plenty of Quebec riders competing over the weekend. It surely won’t be that long before someone starts to make a significant impact…