Being caught in the crossfire is no place to be here in Lourdes. Front line battles between camps and friendly fire within teams is rife as emotions begin to work themselves onto the surface of a tense and yet fully compelling qualifier.
F@ck you and F@ck you back reverbarates around the pits. This might be being a touch melodramatic but the undercurrent has already pulled several people under. It all makes for great marketing material in the race to find who is the fastest racer on earth. And the fastest bike….what, what? Is the result being skewed? Is this a misrepresentation of skill?
To what extent wheel size has played a part in this prelude to tomorrow’s final we will never know, all we know is that a point has been proved. Except maybe the comedy in all this is that it’s old news, everybody knows the speed difference, there is hard evidence if not from Santa Cruz but from other teams that prove that the bigger wheel is faster. The quantitative research is done leaving subjectivity to take on a whole new dimension. It’s kicking off.
Look, I know you’ve heard it so many times, ok so what if we take another angle on all this. What if we bring in fatigue and braking bumps to the party?
On the live screen it seems very clear that the riders on bigger wheels are getting less of a working over, falling into fewer holes. I put this to Greg Minnaar but he came back with the cagey answer of a rider knowingly hesitant to commit with the final yet to be run. And not to put the result down to the bike.
Common sense reveals that with seventy riders hammering the track to a 27.5 rhythm then the three riders on 29” simply hit fewer holes, skip the tops and pile drive down the hill. Is Minnaar being evasive or has he simply acclimatised to the new cruising speed?
The qualies have been a moment in time for certain but come final there could well be an even greater difference in the times being posted. A more cut up track could well make for an even greater advantage for the Santa Cruz bikes.
This brings us on to cumulative fatigue (thanks Alan) and the effect this has on riders during the practice timed training, qualification and final. It’s very well known that Sam Hill used this to his advantage by never overcooking practice at races. This is something that Aaron Gwin has adopted too.
Is there less fatigue involved? Again Minnaar is cagey on this but Luca Shaw certainly thinks it plays a part. Falling into less holes, or at least not falling so far into those holes.
Santa Cruz might not have been the first to build a 29” downhill bike but they have been the first to get the endorsement in public and in the combative environment of racing. It seems many more teams have something cooking but have been caught napping. Fort William and beyond will be an intriguing story. Tomorrow’s final will be all-time but between then and now there will be some robust discussions within teams. After all every point counts.
The Santa Cruz military angle in the run up of this event takes on a whole new perspective in Lourdes. Warning shots fired.