– RAINBOWS IN THE TROPICS
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.”