New Bikes, Same Old Results? 5 Things We Learned at the Downhill World Cup in Lourdes
Big bails, team changes and signs of what's to come...
It may have been some familiar faces popping the champagne at the end of the day, but the riders standing next to them will be eager to change that come round two in Cairns, and there's plenty of signs to suggest they could do just that.
Here's why - other than the fact that we were a crate of beer down at the time - we loved the World Cup opener in Lourdes...
1) Rider > Mountain Bike
There have been a whole host of changes in the off-season this year, and what they've confirmed is what you should have already known; it doesn't actually make that much of a difference.
The YT had never been used before at a World Cup. Gwin won. The Athertons were on Treks for the first time. Rachel won. Loic Bruni was riding his first World Cup on the Specialized. He came possibly one crash away from taking the win.
There was talk of the likes of Troy Brosnan, Josh Bryceland and Greg Minnaar having an advantage over others at the top of the field having stayed on the same bikes over the winter, but as you’d expect, the time, tests and training have been put in by those with new rigs, and the riding skills are still what shine through when you watch back the footage.
Some will say that it's telling that Gwin's winning time would have only placed 15th in the field last year at finals - he ran a 2:58.691 as opposed to this year's 3:09.131 - but as well as the natural course changes, the conditions this year had a huge impact. The rider's final runs were pretty much their first in the dry over the course of the week.
Gwin isn’t winning because of the new bike now in the same way he didn’t win just because he was on the Specialized S-Works or the Trek Session before it.
2) 2016 Could Be The Battle of Two Superstars
If you hadn’t watched the Lourdes World Cup, a quick glance at the times from finals would suggest that not an awful lot had changed since last year. It may be a new bike and a new season, but Aaron Gwin is set to continue his world domination.
Maybe he’ll win every event; maybe he’ll win the World Champs; f*ck – maybe he’ll even win the US presidential election. He’d probably be a better option than Donald Trump.
Not the case. Aaron Gwin may have won five of the last eight World Cup races now and got his first win with the YT Mob, but the man who replaced him on the Specialized S-Works was the fastest man of the day in France – and Aaron knows it.
Wearing the rainbow stripes for the first time in Lourdes, Loic Bruni won qualifying and was ahead at every split before crashing out in finals and making fans around the world squeal in a variety of languages and cover their electronics in beer.
“Loic is the winner today," Aaron told Red Bull TV after Bruni had bailed, got back on his bike and rolled over the line in 14th. “He had me beat."
Some would say Aaron is being overly generous. Gwin stayed on his bike, Loic didn’t. Gwin won the race. Speed doesn’t always translate to victories.
We couldn’t help but think back to our interview with Loic Bruni after Crankwrox Rotorua when the Frenchman told us that he often feels like “destiny doesn’t want [him] to win a World Cup". But will he be able to stay on his bike in the future and fend off the ever-impressive Aaron?
Batman vs. Superman may have been so bad it made Ben Affleck cry, but fear not action-fans, we could just have our own superhero battle coming to downhill mountain biking this year. And not even Zack Snyder will be able to ruin it.
3) Stevie Smith is Well and Truly Back
The two chaps with their heads stuck on Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill above look like they’ll be favourites for the overall this year, but the beauty of downhill is the unpredictability. How many times have a handful of riders been hyped up for a certain track only for an outsider or upcomer to steal the win?
You can hardly categorise Stevie Smith as an outsider, but it does look like the Canadian Chainsaw is getting back to his best after a couple of seasons where injury have gotten the best of him. Call us romantics, but we’d love to see the 2013 World Cup winner taking to the podium again, and after a second-place finish it seems there’s no reason why he can’t.
If Danny Hart, who placed third in Lourdes, is able to get back to winning ways as well, then we promise to go into our nearest supermarket and shout something about Rob Warner and Danny Hart and giant balls and sitting down. That’s the dream, people. That’s the dream.
4) We’re Scared of the Lourdes Track
Some of the crashes at Lourdes last weekend were crazy. A baptism of mud for those coming back from the off-season to one of the most technical courses around.
The video above wonderfully sums up what we’re talking about, whilst taking the edge off the fact that this course is probably going to cause us some nightmares when we hit our pillow later.
5) The British Women Are On One... and Rachel Atherton Will Have to Stay Focused
Rachel Atherton won every single race in the 2015... except one; Lourdes. Now she’s won there to open the 2016 season, the reigning World Champ has placed first in her last eight elite races. We don’t think anyone would begrudge us saying she’s been rather dominant over the past year or so.
But she’s not unbeatable. Given, Rachel went over than 10 seconds faster than 2014 champ Manon Carpenter, but fellow Brit and Manon’s regular riding partner Tahnee Seagrave won qualifying by over three seconds in Lourdes – and even crashed on that qualis run.
Tahnee would go on to finish four and a half seconds back from Rachel in finals, but on a course that had significantly dried up since earlier in the day and week. Perhaps on another wet weather weekend Tahnee could claim her first World Cup win, or even if she can pin a flawless run on another day?
Rachel knows that she’s going to have to stay on top form to keeping winning, telling Red Bull TV after the race: “It’s been one of those days that’s been all or nothing. I knew that I’d have to ride as hard as well as I could, and maybe crash. It’s pretty gnarly how hard we have to push!"
The harder she’s pushed, the more interesting the category will get, and it’s already sick to see Rachel, Tahee and Manon bringing home the British 1-2-3 in Lourdes!