The Cairns jungle, renowned for its selection of insects, spiders, snakes and other nasties thankfully changed with none of these creatures to be found. The schedule change for Champs versus the usual wet season times of the previous World Cup rounds at the venue meant the race would be during the dry season. This also meant very dusty conditions. A track mostly unchanged from the first World Champs hosted there in 1996. A “flow” style downhill course with a tough rock garden, many high speed sections and jumps and a flat out finish line sprint. And of course, dust. It was in this dust that the expectations placed on so many riders would be challenged.
Behind the scenes of course there was a huge organisational challenge for everything to get ready. Teams moving huge amounts of gear from the last World Cup round at Val Di Sole into the back of James Cook University half a world away. Organisers and sponsors getting the village ready. Marshals inspecting last minute changes to the course and taping everything off. Media, press and teams getting accreditation badges and settling into the routine.
The days of racing started with a team trackwalk on the Wednesday, with riders walking the track top to bottom. Plenty of discussions and decisions to be made amongst the national teams as they inspected the track.
Timed Training and Qualification
At World Championships there is no qualification as such as per World Cups. All riders qualify for the final, and the start list order is set by their time in Timed Training. Outside of timed training, there is multiple days of practice to learn the track’s ins and outs in preparation for the big race.
The track deteriorated almost hourly, particularly when the Elite Men were out on course, the sizes of the ruts and bombholes were getting bigger and bigger as the days wore on and definitely creating more challenges in areas such as the Minjin Switchbacks at the top.
But throughout the days, fed up to the top by the dedicated crew manning the shuttle uplifts, the riders had a good amount of time to get runs in on what was quite an enjoyable course.
Junior Men & Women
Racing started early for the Juniors, with the Aussie’s best result in Junior Women from Ellie Smith, coming away with a 5th placing, however the medals in that class all went to European riders with Melanie Chappaz taking the gold.
In the Junior Men’s category, Finn Iles looked unstoppable earlier on however failed to get the first place he was after, Matt Walker taking the win.
In the Women’s Elite category, Tracey went in as the home-town favourite, with Myriam Nicole and Tahnee Seagrave the ones to watch for. Tracey’s run was marred by a crash seeing her take second place in the original result, with an awesome result from Miranda Miller getting first place. Miranda has had a few injuries over the years but has been training hard and that paid off for her this weekend.
Tahnee had a crash and Pompon initially was placed 18th, however a review of the timing results saw Tracey move to 3rd and Pompon take the Silver medal. It wasn’t the result that we expected, but at least Tracey won a medal here. Also a great result for Danni Beecroft, taking 4th place, and Sian Ahern, taking 8th.
Elite Men’s was a fantastically close race as always at Cairns. With the start order having Sam Hill first down, his spot in the hotseat was guaranteed, however he ended up being there for a large portion of the race. When Mick Hannah came down the track and took first, he said that down the whole track he couldn’t even hear his bike as the crowd was so loud. The huge crowd saw him push the absolute limit on the track, coming down into first place in the hotseat when he came down.
However the talented Superbruni saw to it that it wouldn’t be Mick’s glorious day, edging him out by a very slim 0.3 second margin. After a flat tyre for Minnaar and a 16th for Danny Hart, the only chance Australia had of a gold was Troy Brosnan, who was a little off the pace. When he crossed the line and Bruni remained the leader, there was a huge outbreak of excitement with Bruni and the French team, celebrating their win and Bruni’s first World Championship Gold medal.
A great run from Aaron Gwin for third, only around 1.8 seconds off the pace of Mick Hannah. The Aussies dominated the next 3 results, with Moir 4th, Brosnan 5th and Hill 6th, and Dean Lucas in 12th.
Thats it for 2017. Unfortunately for Australia there’s no Australian round of a World Cup or Championships in 2018, so hopefully in 2019 we will see another round here. However stay tuned, as we have the Australian National downhill rounds, Cannonball festival and plenty of other local events on in the meantime!
Words and photos – Ben Sykes http://bensykesphotography.com