Z's Picks: Five Predictions For Fort William

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After a nearly seven-month hiatus, the wait is finally over: World Cup downhill has finally returned. The first race on the calendar will be held this Sunday at Fort William, Scotland.

Amaury Pierron will have a strong return to the World Cup.

Though Amaury has had a rough go of it in the past year with a persistent concussion sidelining him for the 2023 season, he will make his return this weekend. Coming off a season that saw seven separate World Cup winners, Pierron has been relatively overlooked.

If anyone can bounce back it is Amaury Pierron. Pierron missed most of 2020 and 2021 due to injury but went on to dominate in 2022, winning four rounds and comfortably winning the overall.

Though his early season race results in the southern hemisphere were not to Amaury’s normal standard, it is unwise to bet against him at Fort William. Pierron has won the last three World Cups on the course, including his first-ever elite victory in 2018.

With Pierron’s track record at Fort Bill and his ability to find the next level on race day, he is a perfect candidate to make a statement this weekend.

Vali Holl will continue her dominance.

In 2023, Vali Holl staked her claim as the strongest racer in the women’s field winning her second overall in three years along with her second straight rainbow jersey last season. At 22, Vali is only beginning to hit her prime.

The Austrian changed sponsors in the offseason, returning to YT after two years on Trek. Additionally, she is riding an unreleased frame hidden from the public. Though she might be less familiar with her setup heading into 2024 than she has in years past, Holl has shown that she is the most dominant racer in the current women’s field. I expect to see her on the podium on Sunday.

Dorval AM will continue to shine for Commencal

Though Commencal-Mucoff is the Andorran brand’s most well-known team, Commencal sponsors another high-caliber World Cup squad. The Dorval AM team is made up of Camille Balanche, Benoit Coulanges, Baptiste Pierron, and Monika Hrastnik.

Camille Balanche and Benoit Coulanges are perennial contenders to stand on the top step of the Podium. Balanche, who played Hockey for the Swiss National team and did not start racing bikes until she was an adult, has a World Championship, four World Cup victories, and a World Cup overall under her belt

After threatening to win for years, Benoit Coulanges finally broke through on home soil in Les Gets. Read about Benoit’s emotional victory below.

Related: Benoit Coulanges Reflects On Elusive First World Cup Win In New Film

Additionally, Dorval’s Monika Hrastnik is fresh off of a fourth place in the women’s overall in 2023.

I expect to see the Dorval continue their success. It would not surprise me to see Balanche or Coulanges standing on the podium come Sunday.

Dylan Maples will continue to step up.

Dylan Maples is an American Downhill pro. At the end of 2023, when the Commencal Mucoff team was decimated by injury, Maples was called up to the factory team. Dylan had immediate results with the increased support, finishing 13th in Mont Sainte Anne.

In December, Commencal Mucoff announced that Maples had been added to the factory team full-time. Coming off an offseason with full support Dylan Maples is poised to have a strong season.

Related: Commencal Muc-Off Team Announces Newest Member

Jordan Williams will bounce back.

After his iconic battle with Jackson Golsdtone in the Junior category, Jordan Williams burst into the elite field winning the first World Cup round last year. Unfortunately for Jordan, he had a bit of a roller-coaster season after the triumph.

Jordan has a new ride heading into 2024, having finally gotten his hands on the Specialized prototype that his teammates Loic Bruni and Finn Iles have had success on. Watch Williams confidently plow the bike through some loam over the winter in Portugal below.

Bonus dark horse picks

Ethan Craik found the pace at the end of the year and could be a threat to do some damage.

To committed fans, Ronan Dunne is no dark horse. Still, the young Irish ripper has yet to crest the top step of the podium. Any fan who has seen Dunne's practice clips would not be surprised to see him put a complete run together and smash the field.

Gracey Hamstreet had a stellar two seasons racing juniors but did not immediately find the speed in her first elite season. With a year under her belt and a new mentor in Greg Minnaar, Hemstreet is poised to have a day.

In a sport with so many likable riders, it is hard to pick and choose winners. I will be excited for whoever comes across the finish line and has the light flash green.

Each year, racing seems to have more parity. The fact that it can be anyone's race makes watching World Cups so amazing

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