– RAINBOWS IN THE TROP­ICS

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - WORDS: MIKE BLE­WITT PHOTOS: ROBERT CONROY, DAVE ACREE

What a show we put on! Re­live all the ex­cite­ment of the 2017 World Cham­pi­onships in Cairns and hear di­rectly from new Ju­nior XCO champ Cameron Wright about why young Aussies are ready to dom­i­nate the sport.

Cairns is no stranger to be­ing on the moun­tain bik­ing world stage. The town in Trop­i­cal North Queens­land was thrust into the MTB con­scious­ness about 20 years ago, as lo­cal moun­tain bik­ers took to see­ing what their bikes could do. With­out In­sta­gram feeds, moun­tain bik­ing de­vel­oped up north thanks to what rid­ers could do, and what the equip­ment could stand. But with the likes of the Mud Cows in Trop­i­cal North Queens­land, the world soon took no­tice.

After the World Cup and World Cham­pi­onships in the mid 1990s, moun­tain bik­ing dropped off. Glen Ja­cobs said that moun­tain bik­ing even be­came banned in ar­eas where the 1996 World Champs were held. But that was then. With news in 2013 that the World Cup was com­ing to Smith­field in 2014 and 2016, ahead of a World Cham­pi­onships in 2017, it was clear there was life in the moun­tains be­hind James Cook Univer­sity – and not just with min­jin sight­ings. If you vis­ited the World Cup in 2014 and 2016 you’d ap­pre­ci­ate the lo­ca­tion of the XCO and DH cour­ses. It’s in the jun­gle. Ac­cess is hard, weather can wreak havoc with con­di­tions for rid­ers and spec­ta­tors alike. 2014, rain aside, was good. 2016 had ar­guably bet­ter cour­ses, but maybe the crowd at­mos­phere wasn’t quite the same. Were peo­ple hold­ing out for the big show? NO MORE DRESS RE­HEARSALS Smith­field Moun­tain Bike park was awash with Aus­tralian moun­tain bik­ers, fans, and the world’s best rid­ers for the 2017 World Cham­pi­onships - and they were joined by plenty of peo­ple who were just in­ter­ested to see what the fuss was about. Crowds lined much of the cour­ses, at least three-deep along the start straight in the elite cross-coun­try races, and there was lit­tle room to move if you wanted to get up on course to see the big fea­tures like Jacob’s Lad­der, Croc Slide, Croc Teeth, The Gen­er­a­tor, Rodeo Drop or Cater­pil­lars. And that’s with­out the show in Veemass after the start loop! The Down­hill had bet­ter course ac­cess and it showed. Spec­ta­tors al­most camped out up on course, get­ting prime po­si­tions in the rock gar­den, or at Mick’s Drop, and lower down at The Gen­er­a­tor, where they could watch the best in the world test them­selves on the fast and pow­er­ful DH course. “It’s un­be­liev­able,” said Mick Han­nah of the crowd on course.

“Right from the rock gar­den all the way down, the track was lined and scream­ing. I couldn’t hear my bike be­cause the crowd was so loud.” The for­est was thump­ing with peo­ple mov­ing around, vis­i­bil­ity was down to 10 me­tres with all the dust churned up by rid­ers and spec­ta­tors alike. The World had come to Smith­field – and Aus­tralia was putting on a show.

ALL AC­TION IN XCO

It was hard to not get caught up in the cross-coun­try ac­tion. With the Team Re­lay start­ing on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, peo­ple who ar­rived early got to see star rid­ers rip around the XCO course in a five-per­son re­lay in their na­tional teams. With the Swiss tak­ing the win, it set up in­tense dom­i­na­tion by the masters of pre­ci­sion. Aus­tralia’s eyes were on course for the Ju­nior Men’s XCO the fol­low­ing day, as many were well aware we had a good chance of a medal. And as Cameron Wright led from the start loop with

a small gap, that he con­tin­ued to build, it looked like that medal might be gold. Us­ing the time he had spent in Smith­field on train­ing camps, Cam rode his own rhythm on the climbs, to then un­leash and nail his lines on the de­scents, in­creas­ing his time gap al­most ev­ery lap. “I was just go­ing to stay in the top five for the start loop and at­tack be­fore the sin­gle­track,” said Wright after the race. “But I felt re­ally, re­ally good so I went straight away. Go­ing through the start-fin­ish straight I had a peek be­hind me, saw a gap and thought I would keep it con­sis­tent and go from there.” Aus­tralia hasn’t had a men’s Ju­nior XCO World Cham­pion since Trent Lowe, and Cam’s ti­tle is a huge per­sonal achieve­ment, but also one based on a whole pro­gramme be­hind it. The Ju­nior women’s race wasn’t too dif­fer­ent, with Aus­trian Laura Stig­ger gain­ing the lead early with France’s Loan Le­comte in tow. The diminu­tive Aus­trian rode to a solo vic­tory, with time in hand to cross the line with her na­tional flag raised aloft. Be­sides the dom­i­nant per­for­mance from Sam Gaze in the U23 men’s XCO race, after the Ju­nior rac­ing the cross-coun­try events be­longed to the Swiss. Sina Frei took hold of the women’s U23 race, and while Kate Court­ney and Swiss Alessan­dra Keller had amaz­ing rides after poor starts and me­chan­i­cals, the day be­longed to Frei. This was re­peated in the Elite women’s and men’s races, as the Swiss team hit the races with plans. In both events Swiss rid­ers (and race favourites) Jolanda Neff and Nino Schurter went out hard. No one could hold on to Neff after Great Bri­tain’s An­nie Last dropped off the pace she and Linda In­der­gand had set early in the race. The U23 and Ju­nior races had showed that to win, you had to be at the front after the start loop. “To­day was re­ally great for me, we had a strong team com­ing in to the race. We def­i­nitely wanted to play team tac­tics, and I had the best start I could thanks to my team-mate and the race plan our coach put to­gether,” said Neff in the post-race press con­fer­ence. In the men’s race the same plan looked to be in place from Switzer­land, and the goal was to de­liver Schurter to vic­tory. But Jaroslav Kul­havy proved to be very hard to shake for Schurter and com­pa­triot Thomas Litscher. “I was too fast through a cor­ner and it was done, I made a small mis­take. Nino got five or 10 sec­onds and it was too much for me. It was done,” ad­mit­ted Kul­havy post race. Schurter worked hard to main­tain a small lead and capped off a per­fect sea­son of six wins in the World Cup, with a World Cham­pi­onship ti­tle added on top. More than that, Schurter and Litscher’s medals meant Switzer­land took home seven out of 18 medals, plus the team re­lay. Don’t miss all our in­sights into the World Cham­pi­onships on AMB­mag. com.au

PRES­SURE TO PER­FORM AT HOME We have a huge depth of tal­ent in Down­hill and a num­ber of Aus­tralian men who could take the ti­tle – but eyes were re­ally fo­cused on Mick Han­nah, one of the world’s best, but also a home­town hero. With his sis­ter Tracey there were great hopes that Aus­tralia could have two World Cham­pi­ons in Down­hill – and lo­cal winners to boot. It wasn’t quite to be the fairy­tale fin­ish, but with four Aus­tralians in the top 10 men and three in the top 10 women, the per­for­mances were still epic. Tracey Han­nah even­tu­ally placed 3rd and her brother Mick was 2nd in Elite men’s – after a long time on the hot seat. “He did an in­cred­i­ble run,” said Tracey of her brother’s race run. “Be­ing able to hold his nerve and be­ing able to deal with the pres­sure we have felt over the last year lead­ing into this is pretty im­pres­sive.” Tracey was on a storm­ing run but had her front wheel slip out in the dusty and slip­pery con­di­tions, get­ting hung up in the vines after hit­ting her head in the crash. “I’ve had a bit of an up and down sea­son, and to crash at a home World Champs, which is a life goal, is pretty dis­ap­point­ing. When it comes to rac­ing, down­hill is crazy. You just don’t know what will hap­pen on the day. A wheel slid­ing out is pretty com­mon in this sport.” With the su­per-dry con­di­tions, the course was chal­leng­ing even the very best rid­ers. While not as bru­tal as cour­ses like Val di Sole, it was a course that was slip­pery and mag­ni­fied small mis­takes. “You can ride a track a mil­lion times, but if you have 300 rid­ers go­ing down a track four days in a row, you’re not go­ing to see the same track ever again,” said Tracey. “You can’t choose what con­di­tions you’re go­ing to have. I think we’re used to

that rac­ing World Cups. It’s good to be home and have a home track ad­van­tage, but at the end of four days it’s not the same track.” “It was a mas­sive ac­com­plish­ment to beat Mick,” said men’s cham­pion Loic Bruni. “It was a track where you had to be complete, but I trained hard. I worked hard for this race and yeah – we made it. I only be­lieved I could win it when I crossed the line!” “I had a good run,” said Mick Han­nah, who spent much of the af­ter­noon in the hot seat. “My goal since find­ing out Champs was go­ing to be here was to just do my run. And it hurt, quite a bit ac­tu­ally, to get 2nd here. My run was great, the crowd was amaz­ing.” Quizzed on how he re­acts after see­ing his sis­ter Tracey’s per­for­mances, at any World Cup or even the World Cham­pi­onships, Han­nah was ev­er­pro­fes­sional. “It’s re­ally an in­ter­est­ing process to me as to whether she does re­ally well or has a dis­ap­point­ing run. It’s a sim­i­lar process if she does re­ally well, you have to set­tle down and con­trol the ex­cite­ment and hit the first turn re­ally con­trolled. And if she has a dis­ap­point­ing run, well we have a lot of heart in­vested with each other and it hurts me as much as it hurts her. Ei­ther way you’ve got to be able to get back and do your own job,” he ex­plained. While nei­ther of the Han­nahs won the World Ti­tle they were chas­ing, it was still a huge day for Aus­tralia, and their fam­ily. “It’s pretty huge for our fam­ily, they put a lot of ef­fort in the last – well for­ever, since we’ve been rid­ing,” said Tracey. “There is al­ways the goal to win Worlds, that’s the dream, that’s the fairy­tale. But be­ing on the podium is con­fi­dence build­ing and we’re look­ing for­ward to next year.”

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