We’ve been waiting so long for the return of the UCI Downhill World Cup, so it’s been sick to get another hit of the action just weeks after the restart in Lourdes.
Cairns is known for its chaos. Last time the downhill series visited in 2014, the tap was on and it was pouring all weekend, the crashes were frequent, the slips were sensational and the events on the sidelines were just downright bizarre – Gee Atherton borrowing gear and Steve Peat having to stop his run because some dude had stolen Adam Brayton’s bike.
This time it was all about the home riders gunning for glory in their backyard, the first time king taking up his throne and the queen who shows no signs of stopping. Here’s what we learned from round two of the 2016 mountain bike World Cup in Cairns...
1) Claudio Caluori has asked the UCI about putting Rachel Atherton in the men’s field
Rachel Atherton has now won the last nine elite level women’s mountain biking races, including the last eight World Cup events and the World Championships in Vallnord. In total, she’s won a mind-numbing 28 senior World Cup races.
We’d say she’s the winningest rider of all time, but there’s a good reason Microsoft Word puts a squiggly red line under the word ‘winningest’, so we’ll just stop by saying that she’s already a downhill legend at 28 years old and has won more top level downhill events than it’s likely any of her male counterparts ever will.
So should she be racing with the men? It’s a point that Claudio Caluori raised in commentary during the downhill world cup at Cairns, saying: “Well I did ask the UCI why don’t we let her start in the men’s field but they didn’t like that idea."
Rob Warner countered Claudio by noting: “I don’t think Rachel would [like the idea] either to be honest". For perspective, her winning time of 3:48.566 in the women’s ranks would’ve seen Rachel finish 76th in the men’s field.
The point Claudio raised next was probably more valid, noting that he had suggested it only as a “new challenge", before adding that another “new challenge for her could be to have a perfect season and win every race."
We’re not sure what Rachel riding with the men would really achieve other than denying her the chance to create more history and break and extend more of her already outstanding records in the women’s ranks. Rachel is a dominant force right now, and if she did go on to win every race this season as we all know she very well could – it would go down in history as a season to remember.
It’s worth remembering that Tahnee Seagrave won qualifying in Lourdes as well, and with 2014 champ Manon Carpenter still only 23 and Tahnee just 20, we’re saying it’s only a matter of time before the pressure on Rachel’s reign at the top starts to get intense.
Sidenote: A shoutout to Rachel Atherton for genuinely sounding like she wanted Tracey Hannah to kill it and win in front of her home crowd in her post-race interview. Humble in victory and defeat!
2) Home advantage is definitely a thing
We don’t know whether it’s the familiarity to the track itself, the pedal-friendly nature of it, being able to handle the gnarly rock gardens, the humid weather or just feeling like you’re at home in front of an adoring crowd, but the Australians were on form this weekend in Australia.
Tracey Hannah may not have been able to pip Rachel Atherton to the top spot, finishing seven seconds back, but the local shredder managed to fend off regular British riding partners Tahnee Seagrave and Manon Carpenter, who both got the better of her in Lourdes, to take home second.
The same could be seen in the men’s field. Frenchman Loic Bruni may have been popping the champagne at the end of the day but he had a native on either side of him in the form of Troy Brosnan, who qualified first and only just missed out on the win, and Tracey’s brother Sick Mick Hannah, who was nearby in third as well.
Brosnan or Hannah could easily have won on the day, both coming within inches, and it’s worth remembering that Aussies Graeme Mudd and Joshua Button also made top ten – Button finishing in a personal best fifth after holding on to the hot seat for the majority of the afternoon.
Which brings us on to our next point...
3) Joshua Button has definitely not been media trained
One of our favourite things about the live coverage of the UCI Downhill World Cup is that it’s exactly that – live. And mountain bikers tend to be a fairly unpredictable lot.
When you’re watching a post-match football interview for example, you can pretty much predict what the dude in front of the mic is going to say before he’s said it, because there’s probably a media counsellor at the club who has been paid a disgustingly large salary to turn him into a robot and teach him some lines.
When it’s a mountain biker, you can guarantee that’s not the case, and the results are always entertaining. Cue the first four words Joshua Button said to the camera after being asked how he felt about finishing in the top ten and sitting on the podium so long: “fifth is fucking crazy".
The Aussie then proceeded to give a technical evaluation of his run to the camera, which sounded a little something like this: “my top split was good, the middle was shit and the bottom two were good". Cue the wonderful irony of Rob Warner having to apologise in his commentary for someone else saying something that’s a little too racy.
3) The sky is the limit now for Loic Bruni
So 2015 World Champion Loic Bruni has now become 2015 World Champion and 2016 World Cup winner Loic Bruni, at long long last.
With the monkey off his back and his first World Cup win under his belt – imagine for a moment how difficult it would actually be to win a downhill race with a monkey on your back – the pressure is now largely off Loic for the rest of the season and you can bet he’ll be even more confident next time he rolls up to the starting gate.
It looks like the big occasions sometimes get to Bruni. At World Champs in Vallnord he told how he pitched up not expecting much, and then won. At Lourdes, racing in the World Cup in the rainbow stripes, the pressure was on and he crashed out when he was leading Gwin.
This week in Cairns, Loic had been saying all week how he didn’t think it was a course he could win on and distancing himself from a shot at the top spot. With a little less expectation than in previous weeks, he stepped up and did what was needed to get his first big win for Specialized.
There’s always going to be pressure to a certain extent on Loic when he’s on track now, but not in the same way as when he was trying to do something he had never done before and win a first WC.
The sky is the limit for Loic Bruni, and there’s one hell of a storm coming when it comes to the battle between Gwin and himself for the overall. If we were being stupid enough to pick a winner at this stage, we’d have to back the Frenchman to grow in confidence and then handle the pressure when it comes to the business end of the year.
Sidenote: Despite all his wonders and unstoppable riding speed, we still can’t help but think that Bruni should ditch the questionable green trousers in favour of... literally anything else. Just to look a bit better while he’s romping to the win.
4) Pedalling can be fun too, kids
Who knew so much excitement could come from a stretch of track requiring a bunch of professionals on downhill bikes to do a shitload of pedalling?
We saw how tiring the final sprint was when Claudio Caluori dropped his course preview and could barely breathe afterwards, but it wasn’t until the finals got going that the fans really got to see the excitement this would generate.
The rock section was gnarly, the jumps were entertaining, but watching Troy Brosnan, the last rider down the mountain, go into the final stretch 0.184 ahead of leader Loic Bruni and then drop half a second to hand the Frenchman his debut win was the moment of the day.
So much of the day was won and lost on the leaderboard because of those climactic pedal strokes, and it had us on the edge of our seats to the point where we were basically squatting.
5) Some weird stuff happened on Florent Payet and Amaury Pierron’s plane to Oz
Speaking during Florent Payet’s more than entertaining run down the Cairns course, Rob Warner told a rather bizarre story, or rumour if you will, circling around about French duo Payet and Pierron’s flight over to Australia:
“They took some sleeping tablets to help them deal with the long flight here," he said. “Woke up – and i’m not quite sure of the ins and outs of it – but it effected them quite seriously.
“They ended up going and helping themselves to a couple of first class seats I believe and the police were waiting for them when they got here. That’s the rumour. That’s been confirmed by quite a few people."
How utterly bizarre. It didn’t seem to affect Florent’s performance on the first half of the course anyway. He was on one... But then he did crash out. Related? We’ll leave that up to you.