Loic Bruni had never won a senior World Cup event when he dropped into the course in Vallnord, Andorra on World Championships day in September 2015. But it was no surprise to anyone to see the Frenchman wearing the rainbow colours at the end of the day.
It was one hell of a year for Loic even before his big win, though he did spend more time than he’d have liked playing mountain biking's answer to the bridesmaid.
Loic qualified first three times on the series and stunningly managed to place second in finals at four of the seven stops; in Lourdes, Lenzerheide, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Val di Sole, without picking up a win.
He would find his redemption at the biggest race of the season of course, but the frustration remains from missing out by such narrow margins so frequently at the World Cup.
“Sometimes it does feel like destiny doesn’t want me to win a World Cup," he laughs. Destiny clearly doesn’t have too much against him, though. We’re speaking to him after he’s just successfully defended his crown at the 2016 edition of the Crankworx Rotorua downhill.
“People tell you ‘maybe next time’, but you want it so bad, and you’ve worked for it so hard that you expect it to happen. So you don’t want to hear that.
“Obviously my opponents are really good and it’s really tough as well. That’s just racing; sometimes it’s shit for you and sometimes it’s shit for others. It’s not easy to win a World Cup but I will definitely win one. One of these days!
“The season was good though," he continues. “And it had been good for me even before World Champs. I didn’t feel too frustrated because I was just happy to be on the podium and battling with the top guys.
“Going into Andorra I was really satisfied. I couldn’t really believe it but I was so stoked. Once in the year and at the World Champs... to go home with the title and see people so happy and being so sincere was so great."
Of course, being World Champion comes with extra pressure, and Loic’s much-hyped move from Lapierre Gravity Republic to bike giants Specialized will only add to that expectation.
The French rider admits that the rainbow stripes on his jersey and the bike between his legs will add to the load when he arrives in Lourdes for the restart of the World Cup on 9-10 April, but insists that he’s relishing the challenge.
“It’s a good pressure," he tells. “Last year there was still pressure because I always put pressure on my own shoulders, but now I have my pressure and the pressure of the rainbow jersey and the new brand as well.
“They [Specialized] don’t expect me to win maybe but of course they expect me to do well. But I think the biggest pressure will be going to Lourdes and wearing the rainbow jersey for the first time in my life.
"Now I have my pressure and the pressure of the rainbow jersey and the new brand as well..."
“It’s exciting more than scary, so hopefully I’ll be able to make people proud! We’re riding well at the moment. I’m not sure if we have the speed to win a World Cup but we have the speed to do well, so hopefully it will go well in Lourdes.
“Even if I didn’t have the World Champs jersey, going into the first run in France is always a big challenge because everyone will be cheering for me on the home track. It’s going to be tough but we’re ready. All the team is ready – Loris is really fast, Finn too. Everybody is pinned and we’re a great group."
It’s always hard to predict how race one is going to go on the downhill circuit; whether it’ll be the old guard taking to the podium or an upcoming rider who breaks through to the next level.
With Bruni, Aaron Gwin, Gee Atherton and plenty more riding new rigs for new teams this year, that uncertainty is probably more certain than ever, too.
Loic Bruni has long proven that he can ride with the best of them though, and in Vallnord last year, he proved that he’s got what it takes to win as well.
We won’t be surprised if he gives the home crowd a first-time World Cup champion to cheer for on the podium at Lourdes on April 10.