Following his 4X debut at the Fort William round of the Pro Tour last month, Team CRC Mavic rider Elliott Heap qualified for the Great Britain team at the 4X World Championships in Val Di Sole, Italy.
Team Manager Nigel Page was trackside to bring us this report:
Val di Sole has been the venue for the race for the rainbow stripes jersey in the 4X discipline for the last four years or so. It is a big downhill track with huge corners, big jumps and super exciting racing and always with a huge crowd.
Elliott decided he wanted to do the race instead of the Megavalanche where we were scheduled to be, so we headed off to Val Di Sole to give it a go.
Elliott looked great on the track in practice, ‘show boating’ over all the big jumps and hitting inside lines that no other riders dared do. The only thing he wasn’t too good at was the BMX-style gate start as this takes years of practice to get dialled.
Qualifying for the finals was one run on your own and the fastest 32 men made it through to Friday night’s finals, where there are eight heats of four riders with the first two riders going through each round until you have the last four riders in the grand final.
Elliott was looking super fast and hit all his lines and jumps perfect until the last straight where there is a tricky rock garden into a new step-on-step-off Super X style jump. Elliott caught his backside on the back wheel squashing the step-on which nearly stopped his bike resulting in a bad case off the step-off, losing all his speed for the uphill into the bridge and down into the finish. He still managed to place 20th (way off the pace he was riding) but securing a place in the finals.
The higher you qualify means you get gate choice in the races but with Elliott’s slow starts that wasn’t really going to be a problem, it was his moves in the turns that would get him through the rounds.
Friday night at 9:15pm the track was packed with excited fans, the floodlights were on and the track looked amazing: the atmosphere was electric.
All the riders were tense as the heats are straight knock out rounds with no second chances.
Elliott was in heat three for his first round and as expected pulled an amazing swoop in the first turn straight into second place and following the current World Champion Felix Bechman to the finish line to transfer to the quarter-finals.
In the quarter finals he did the same move and sat behind Felix again to make it through to the semi-finals!
Now the semi-final is a tense race, once you have made it this far you only have to get top two and you’re in the Worlds Final! But once you get to the semi-finals the competition is tougher with the fastest eight riders in the world going for that final four spots in the finals and a chance of a world title and medals.
Elliott was last going into the first corner as expected but swooped in for his signature move but the first three were jostling for the positions and blocked his move. He didn’t panic and made a pass for third, overtaking veteran UK 4X rider Scott Beaumont for third. The reigning World Champion Felix Bechman was in second but Elliott was chasing him down fast. Felix went for the inside line in the rock garden where he was doing a crazy blind gap jump into the rock garden (the only rider to do this) Elliott went middle, hot on Felix’s heels and the pressure got to Felix, who had a huge crash and Elliott was right there to take the second place and a spot in the Worlds final in only his second ever 4X race.
If that isn’t an achievment, then I don’t know what is!
I couldn’t believe it. Elliott stayed super calm and had a chance of a Worlds medal or even the coveted rainbow stripes!
The four riders lined up on the gate for the grand final, the crowd went silent and all you could here was the BMX start automated gate call. “OK riders. Random Start. Riders Ready, watch the gate.” The gate dropped and the crowd erupted into the most amazing atmosphere. By far the most exciting discipline in mountain bike racing.
As expected Elliott was last off the start with all three ex-BMX racers out of the gate like Usain Bolt at the Olympic 100m final. Elliott swooped from the outside to inside and so nearly made the pass on all three riders, if he had been half a bike length closer going into the first turn he would have pulled off the upset of the night! He had to go for it and it so nearly paid off.
Unfortunately it didn’t and he lost all his speed. He got back going and chased the three riders down for a medal position but just hit the big right hand berm after the pro section doubles at a pace his tyres just couldn’t grip and went down! He got up and was fine, a bit sore a bruised but what an achievement!
The top placed British rider and fourth in the World!
We’ll be back next year for sure. Well done Elliott, we are all super proud of you. Amazing riding and all on his Nukeproof Mega 275C: an enduro bike!
Big thanks to Dave Garland and Tim Flooks for the help this week and all our sponsors for the support.
Elliott Heap, definitely one of the best all around mountain bike riders in the world! Look out…
Image gallery [all images by Boris Beyer]