Wheel size is a state of mind.
Weather and wheel size dominated proceedings. But it was still great to see the World Cup return for 2017. Here are 27.5 things we learnt from Lourdes…
1. Loic Bruni isn’t shy
The Frenchman didn’t hide his feelings about the appearance of 29in wheels at a Downhill World Cup nor has he kept quiet about his distress at having his run disrupted by the late arrival of rain, even going so far as to say that the UCI should have re-scheduled the day to avoid the rain.
2. The UCI can be sticklers even for the Special Ones
Aaron Gwin was disqualified for re-entering the race course further down the course than he exited (on one of his crashes). Harsh but fair. At least the overall standings shouldn’t be affected by this decision come September.
3. Rachel Atherton eh?
She won again. Despite doing her best to stir things up by not qualifying first and by having a bad cold during the days before the race. As well as being unbeaten throughout 2016 (and 2017), Rachel has won 14 out of the past 15 World Cup races. Respec’.
4. Danny Hart’s unbeaten run is over
Although his unbeaten run wasn’t quite in the same league as Rachel Atherton’s, Hart’s unbroken run of success since last summer had been an impressive achievement. Hart ended up in 72nd position at Lourdes. THAT’S how lethal the rain made the track!
5. Aaron Gwin is human
Pity is not normally an emotion you feel when watching Gwin race. Normally it’s awe and/or jealousy that you feel whilst watching him. To see Gwin stack it so hard a couple of times (and eventually get disqualified) was quite a sight. One thing’s for sure, everyone else had really better watch out now.
6. Gwin and Hart don’t know how to not-race
Although tinged with sadness, watching these two titans being frankly unable not to give it their all once they’re off charging down the start ramp was actually brilliant. There was no keeping it safe or ‘just getting down’ to be had from either of these guys. Can’t wait to see them in action properly in Fort William next month.
7. France hadn’t had a World Cup victory on French soil for twenty years
Alexandre Fayolle’s victory – whilst impressive – will probably always be remembered as an unexpected damp squib surprise. He qualified way down in 52nd spot and although he put in a fast run far above his qualifying time, it’s fair to say that he owes his victory to the weather gods. Still, at least France has their first French winner on French soil since the last century.
8. Was Fayolle the first ever World Cup winner running a homemade rear shock?
Fayolle’s rear shock was designed and put together by his friend and team mechanic. Not available to buy in the shops near you now.
9. Polygon don’t care, they’re to busy partying
Lourdes was Polygon’s first ever World Cup victory. They’re arguably the only team who are truly happy about the weekend’s events, especially considering Tracey Hannah’s impressive and noteworthy 2nd place in the Women’s field.
10. Is Tracy Hannah the real danger for Atherton?
Tracey Hannah was looking more determined that ever. Who knows what’s made her step her game up for 2017 but it looks like she’s going to shake up the Women’s racing this season for sure.
11. Canyon unsurprisingly start 2017 with a surprising podium
Everyone thought it would be Troy Brosnan to be the first man to pilot a Canyon to a podium spot but it was not to be. Although the rain ruined Brosnan’s hopes, Mark Wallace finished on the podium to get Canyon off the mark.
12. Öhlins begin their World Cup story with a win
Away from the sideshows of Payolle’s and Atherton’s victories, it’s easy to not notice that, under young Finn Iles, Öhlins had their first taste of World Cup glory in the Junior Men’s race. Congrats to the yellow Swedish crew!
13. Finn Iles was the real racing story of the weekend
The seventeen year old is just unbelievably composed and skilled on a bike. If Specialized can keep hold of him (and Bruni) then the Big Red S has a bright future in World Cup racing. As he points out above, he would have finished 5th in Men’s Elite!
14. Qualifying is not the same as racing
Just ask Tahnee Seagrave. Just ask the Santa Cruz Syndicate. What happens during qualifying is not noted down in the history books. Race day is what counts and for Seagrave and Santa Cruz, things just got postponed again.
15. Show fetish theft blights weekend
Apparently someone stole Rachel Atherton’s race shoes the night before race day. Some replacements were found but in one-size-too-small. These shoes were duly stretched somehow and that’s what she ended up racing in. Keep your eyes on eBay for the stolen goods.
16. Somewhere else to watch the action
As well as Red Bull TV, BIKE Channel are now broadcasting the UCI World Cup Downhill events, both live and the highlights. BIKE Channel is available on Sky channel 464, Virgin Media channel 552 and Freesat channel 251.
17. No one likes the Santa Cruz Syndicate
Well, amongst the rival teams of the World Cup there were some very pointed comments about Santa Cruz’s move to 29in wheels as well as a palpable sense of resentment. The general vibe being that the Syndicate broke some sort of unwritten agreement that 29ers weren’t supposed to come out to play until the World Champs in Cairns.
18. What was in Trek’s pits?
There are rumours that Trek brought their not-very-secret prototype Downhill 29er downhill bike to Lourdes. It’s a bike that’s been several years in development and most people thought it would be Trek that would be the first to debut 29in wheels at a World Cup. But it was not to be. Santa Cruz may not have clinched a racing victory but they certainly stole the limelight at Lourdes.
19. Rachel Atherton is prepared race a 29er
If the bike is right and the course is suitable, she hinted in various interviews that she’d race on a 29er. Never say never. Very wise.
20. What do Spesh think about Bruni’s outbursts?
As one of the biggest proponents of 29ers and 29ers with lots of travel, hearing Bruni’s rail against big wheels must have pricked up the ears of some folk high up at Specialized. It seems someone forgot to send the memo to Loic. Or maybe it’s all just a ruse to throw us off the scent of a Demo 29?
21. The Downhill scene is something of a bubble
As well as the general vibe of the reaction to 29ers in Downhill being rather telling, the moment when commentator Claudio Caluori wondered aloud if there was such a thing a 29er mud tyre was rather revealing. It’s like the Downhill world decided a few years ago to pretend 29ers didn’t exist. Well, they know now that’s for sure.
22. Haven’t we been here before?
The Downhill world is having the same tedious tribal debates about wheel size that the rest of MTB world had several years ago.
23. It’s not about being as fast as you can be apparently
Although Downhill racing is clearly a time trial, the whole debate about the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of 29ers reminds us of the furore a few years back when aerodynamic skinsuits appeared in the World Cup. Although these skinsuits were clearly faster the bike industry didn’t like it. And the UCI bowed to pressure and banned aerodynamic clothing in Downhill. The anti-29er mood is a similar reactionary stance.
24. People have seemingly lost their minds
Wheel size-specific classification is a non-starter. In one of the more bananas ideas, there have been calls for a 29er category to be instigated and separated from 27.5in.
25. The 29er debate will go on until round 3 – at least!
Although round 2 of the World Cup is next, the fast that it’s at Fort William will cause the big wheel discussion to roll and roll. Why? Because if a 29er wins at Fort William everyone will just say that it’s due to the nature of the course (straight, fast and rocky).
26. The Fort William course designers will be under the microscope
The trail team have been remodelling the tracks at Fort William but anyone hoping to see some more slower speed, steep and twisty stuff may be disappointed. The new stuff is supposed to continue to fast and rocky vibe of the existing track. We shall see.
27. Get your tickets to Ft Bill ASAP
Pretty much whatever happens at Fort William in early June will be full of drama. Tickets are significantly cheaper if booked in advance so get yourself sorted now.
27.5. Wheel sighs
Do we really have argue about wheel size AGAIN? Sorry but it appears so.