With no shortage of drama, plenty of crashes and numerous broken bikes it was good to see the World Cup return for 2015 and here are 10 things we learnt in lourdes

The world cup made its long awaited return this weekend on the steep Pyrenees mountainside of Lourdes. The track was brutal, the crashes were even worse and there wasn’t a dull moment of racing to be had. Check out the recap video:

With the racing all over and the mountain side cleared of the battered bikes and bodies we’ve reflected on 10 things we’ve learnt from Lourdes:

1. Gwin is back

Coming into the new season most people seem to have decided that the ‘old breed’ were done for and the sport was firmly in the hands of the youngsters, the Loic Brunis and Josh Brycelands of the competition. Whilst it is only the first race of the season, Gwin threw down the firm message that he still means business and that he should not be so lightly sidelined.

Aaron Gwin- Action

Aaron Gwin returns to winning ways… just a shame the live coverage started after his winning run (a crash in qualies put him earlier in the running order)

2. The future is bright for Mike Jones

Mike Jones of the Chain Reaction team is one of the youngest on the circuit but has already proven he is a definite contender for a top spot. Living out in Australia with his team mate Sam Hill seems to have paid off; racing his first year as an elite and taking a third position is a belter of a way to start a season.

Mike Jones Lourdes

The future of DH mountain biking, Mike Jones. Image: Duncan Philpott

3. It could have been a very different story had it rained

Considering how many crashes we saw when the track was running dry and dusty it could have been absolute mayhem had the clouds broken. With hucks on to sketchy, off camber roots and multiple rock gardens, the Lourdes track and the race itself could have been a whole lot different had the the rains started. Despite the fact that they were predicted it thankfully stayed dry come race day. Last season at Cairns there was no such luck; imagine if the racing had gone down like this on Sunday:

4 The competition looks promising for the women

Things are already heating up this year in the women’s side of the racing. Whilst last year finished tight with only 60 points separating Carpentor, Atherton and Ragot it was still easy for many people to blame it on Rachel’s multiple illnesses. However, this season it seems there is no such scape goat; with Ragot putting down a formidable performance to take first from both Atherton and Carpenter. We can only wonder what might have been had Tracey Hannah (who qualified first) not taken a heavy tumble and separated her shoulder on the lower section of the track in her finals run.

Rachel Atherton - Action

Rachel Atherton flying into the finish. Not top spot today, something she put down to messing up one of the rock gardens. Image: Red Bull

5. We want more rough, techie tracks

The racers loved it, the crowds loved it and the mechanics hated it. It demolished riders and bikes alike sparing no one. Gee Atherton took a battering in his qualification run, hurting his wrist whilst Gwin took a major tumble, resulting in a disqualification from his qualies. While both were protected riders which meant they could race the finals, Gee took a backseat on the day, coming down in 48th. Many more riders took a beating in their training runs, proving that the track was as gnarly as it looked. What we have learnt though, is that this opening track was a whole heap better than Pietermaritzburg and that both the crowds and the racers want to see more of its like throughout the season. Here’s Loic Bruni having a bad time in training:

6. No Stevie Smith, again!

One of the sadder things we learnt this weekend in Lourdes is that we wouldn’t be seeing much of Stevie Smith’s bold and ballsy style; with an injury to his navicular bone in his foot, Stevie sidelined himself from the action this weekend. It’s been a turbulent couple of seasons for Smith who injured his ankle last February then busted himself up again in Monte-Saint Anne. However, the Canadian remains hopeful he’ll return for the Fort Bill round in a couple of months.

7. Nothing can stop a wheel exploding

Last summer Scwalbe released their Procore system. New to riding and even newer to racing, the system promised, amongst other things, a puncture resistant tyre. However, the system doesn’t seem to be infallible when it comes to tyres being blown off the rim as Neko Mulally demonstrated in his race run on Sunday. He wasn’t the only rider struggling with flats out on course, with Andrew Neethling struggling with a flat tyre and eventually, a very battered rim.

8. Air shocks are coming of age in downhill racing

You won’t catch many downhill racers running an air shock on the back of their rigs. For years, a coil setup has been the only option to cope with the extreme heat build-up experienced during downhill racing. But huge strides have been made recently, and now they seem set to become more popular, with weight saving and spring curve tuning options being the primary attractions. In 2013, Remi Thirion won the Vallnord World Cup on a BOS air shock, but you’ll need to dig deep in the archives for the previous victory on anything but a coil spring.

Aaron Gwin - Action

Aaron Gwin lighter than air. He took the most creative lines at Lourdes, can we attribute his win to just the air shock? Probably not. Image by Red Bull.

9. Brendan Fairclough looking fast and furious on the rough stuff

The familiar grace and style was present in Lourdes, floating over the rough stuff in that way which is typical of Fairclough. A regular on the Rampage and free ride scene he was clearly demonstrating the skills he’s been teaching in his masterclasses. Along with the style was an injection of pace in his riding; pulling him into 6th overall and narrowly missing out on a podium. Fairclough maybe benefitting from his off season working with his team mate Neko Mulally and the decision by the Gstaad-Scott team to drop down to only two riders. 

10. Beaten but not broken

Recovering from an injury such as Josh Bryceland’s is no mean feat but to do it in one off season and ride a track such as Lourdes is nothing short of miraculous and coming in 7th is one hell of a run. Reportedly, the track had been giving Ratboy a bit of a beating but nothing was going to stop him sending the hucks and choosing the gnarliest lines. The race even ended with a bridge jump… Here’s a recap of the infamous Hafjell foot breaking run: