It wouldn’t be the downhill mountain bike world cup without a healthy dose of drama, and that’s just what we got as the 2015 season opened in Lourdes, France on Sunday.
In an outcome that few would have called, Emmeline Ragot won the women’s race on home soil, while Aaron Gwin Aaron Gwon the men’s (sorry) with the only run of the day under three minutes.
The winners may have come as a bit of a surprise to many after Tracey Hannah had dominated the ladies qualifying and Loic Bruni had been bossing it all weekend in the men’s – with eventual winner Gwin actually disqualified during qualification.
Sure enough, there were more sub-plots in the weekend than you’d get in a Christopher Nolan boxset.
Not only was Gee Atherton's hand taped up too his handlebars in finals... his wrist was actually broken
For a start, many people’s favourite to win on the steep, largely pedal-free course Sam Hill was sidelined with a shoulder problem, while downhill legend Steve Peat and Stevie Smith missed out with injury as well.
World Champion Gee Atherton had gone fastest in the timed-training meanwhile, but was forced to tape his hand to the handlebars on Sunday after this absolutely brutal crash in qualifying.
Gee could only manage a time of 3:15.228 in finals, placing him just inside the top 50, but when you consider that he was taped up to the handlebars, and it was later revealed that he rode with a BROKEN WRIST, you’ve got to give the guy some serious credit.
Loic Bruni held true to his form despite a crash in practice, but even his wild final run ended up almost four seconds slower than Specialized rider Gwin. Nevertheless, the Frenchman is top of the overall ranks after round one thanks to his efforts in qualification.
It wasn’t a terrible day for last year’s front-runners either. Josh Bryceland bagged 7th place, with Troy Brosnan one behind him, and nobody will be sorry to see Danny Hart riding well for Mondraker and taking a fifth-place finish to open the new campaign.
On the women’s side of things, all eyes were on Tracey Hannah after she went a full six-seconds faster than the rest of the ranks on Saturday. That's some serious shredding.
In a race where many were expecting the competition to come purely from Rachel Atherton and Manon Carpenter (who would finish second and fourth respectively), it was Hannah who turned out favourite – until she fell foul to this crazy crash in finals that is. Thankfully she was able to get back on the bike, but the win was Emmeline’s from that moment onwards.
So, former World Cup winners Ragot and Gwin take the victories in round one. Where does this leave us for the rest of the season? The American Gwin is no doubt back on form, but with the field so strong, it takes more than just one win to establish yourself as a season frontrunner.
Rachel Atherton and Carpenter will no doubt be back bigger and better as well, and the women's field as a whole seems to be getting stronger and stronger each year.
Next up on the downhill schedule? The legendary Fort William track up in sunny Scotland. Bring on the midges, the rain and more crazy mountain biking.