The loose and slightly unpredictable conditions here in Vallnord have made for tricky riding on the first day of practice and timed training. The athletes were struggling to read the terrain, and a fair few crashes happened throughout the day; there were some injuries, which have sadly thinned the field for the weekend.
However, day continued on, and as the sun started its descent to the west, the pace picked up, and riders jostled for top slot on the timing sheet. The times are always more of a gauge than a guarantee, but regardless, the speeds are high and the conditions are only going to deteriorate. Danny Hart was first in line for A practice, showing his intent early doors, and he is renowned for getting up to speed very quickly. Gwin was just Gwin – impossible to read but expect to see no let up from the American today in qualifying.
Taking his classic minimal runs, trying to photograph Aaron Gwin today was like staking out on safari. When he was on course, he looked composed, cool and collected. Look out.
Racers – Feel free to use these images on your personal Instagram with tagging: @descentworld + @zachfaulkner
The early morning hours greeted us with heavy clouds and sparse sun. We were unsure if a repeat of '15 was in store, but thankfully the wind prevailed and we have warm, dry conditions all day.
Charlie Hatton was riding like a man possessed today. He's certainly here to put on a show.
Steve Peat went on a solo strafing run in Timed Training and bombed down the track with such precision, it was like fly-by-wire riding. (His bike was painted like a Spitfire). For those don't know, Steve won his first World Cup in 1998 - It's incredible to see him still on track 18 years later.
The real race today was that of staying in the light, as the rolling clouds made for challenging flat-to-dappled conditions. Greg Williamson managed to beat the sun through this section.
Rachel Atherton took fewer runs than expected today, but considering she has the overall wrapped up, it seems wiser to take things a litle easier the week before World Champs.
The track here in Andorra gets up to speed quite quickly. Manon Carpenter swinging off the back in the dappled early morning light.
Hanging around the Trek Factory pits the other day, Gee Atherton was talking about his bike set up, and on a track like this, it's interesting to see how riders cope with the intense combo of fast, steep, and very rough.
It's the last race of the year, and we all have only just figured out who is who in these Intense trains. Dean Lucas leads Jack Moir through the dust.
Vallnord is likely the closest in conditions to what Connor Fearon rides back home. Unfazed and carving up the corneers, it's not surprising he was 8th in Timed Training.
Matt Walker knows that there's only once chance to get it right in racing, and was pushing himself on track today, dialing in the speed and lines. It's always a battle in the Junior Men, and he knows what it takes to win.
If the rumours are true, we might not see this type of rider in the near future at World Cup races. Never give up on you dreams. One of Hawk's Bay's finest and wrench for the Bergamont team, Kurt McDonald got a petition spot on the New Zealand national squad and is racing here in Andorra.
A couple weeks of shooting video, racing, and being back home have not affected Finn Iles' riding in the least. He was putting down fast runs all day, some solo, others in a train with his teammates. He knows what is on the line this weekend, and he's riding with the appropriate confidence.
Gaetan Vige is no doubt looking for a win here at Vallnord in front of his home crowd. It will be interesting to see how the first-year Junior copes with the pressure - he could without a doubt pull it off too.
Tahnee Seagrave blasted out of the start gate early in the morning to start her first run and she held that pace all day. We know she can, and dearly wants to win...
Chasing down Mick Hannah like he stole his Dale's, Neko Mullaly was following the Aussie powerhouse down the tack all day and looking strong in the process.
Josh Bryceland looked almost nonplussed by the conditions, but then again, he makes everything look effortless. He and Steve Peat were hauling down the hill together all day.
Everyone loves a "Random Hero" or "Local Yokel" rider at a World Cup. The rider who is out-performing the Big Dawgs everywhere, and doing it without any proper recognition. Well, Guilaume Larbeyou is one of those guys, and he was turning heads all day.
Alexandre Fayolle, much to the approval of the on-lookers. He looked oh-so-fast today in the loose and wild conditions.
Graeme Mudd's return to racing in 2016 has been exceptionally successful. It's really cool he gave it all another show, and has seen such success for his efforts. Another rider we hope to see under an tent next season.
He's ok folks (relatively). Jame Matlman got a flat tire and got spit off the bike going quick. He was in good spirits thanks to a canister of who-knows-what, and his friends gave him the classically crass Aussie abuse the whole time.
Kenta Gallagher has really had one helluva season. It's been remarkable to say the least. He has found success in a short amount of time, and is still humble as they come. We all hope to see him get picked up for 2017 by a team.
Fast and full of holes, hucks, rocks, and corners...it's like Brendan Fairclough designed the track himself. Loose as usual, and wild as ever, we're looking forward to seeing him at race pace.
There was a renewed look in Tracey Hannah's eyes today. She looked dead-set on smashing the track into oblivion. She did just that, putting down the top time in Timed Training.
Adam Brayton seemed to have a cruisier day of practice today. That would be understandable considering his selection for the Worlds team, but also becuase the track changed so much through the day, that riding at full pace was almost foolhardy. Adam, racing smart!
One of the funniest people on the hill, Elliot Heap now has properly fitting gloves. This means a repeat of MSA's hand-ruining racing likely wont happen again.
He looked completely in control and spent a bit of time turning nobs on the side of the trail. Greg Miinnaar nearly won here last year, so he'll surely be looking for some redeption here in Andorra.
You can see the focus in his eyes, even behind the slightly tinted lens. Troy Brosnan wants to win, and he isn't trying to be coy about it in his riding. Fastest in Timed Training today, he is clearly feeling capable of winning.