Dancing on Ice: Lourdes World Cup 2016 Practice Day 1 - Dirt

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Dancing on Ice: Lourdes World Cup 2016 Practice Day 1

Slip sliding away...

If I were to compose a welcome note to Lourdes, it would read something like this: Welcome to Lourdes, site of religious miracles and downhill mountain biking. BEWARE: Slippery when wet. And watch out for the pissed–up priests.

Words: James McKnight      Photos: Seb Schieck

Like a scene out of Father Ted, the evening before a frankly outrageously early start ended with 100-odd religious workers dancing on tables, throwing back pints and having a right-old holy singsong. I should have been ready for it really – our first visit in 2014 was along the same lines: rowdy religious folk, harsh mornings and a brutally unforgiving downhill track. In two years the place still hasn’t lost its wow factor.

Steve Peat. The man, the myth, the absolute pinner (and Brendog!). If Peaty’s visible speed on track translates into a result, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the veteran of the circuit threatening the young-uns – just like last week at BDS 1.

From atop the Pic du Jer – Lourdes’ funicular-accessed centre of extraordinarily slippery downhilling – the hills around town bore evidence of a blustery night with temperatures dropped from shorts-and-T to brass monkeys overnight. The track that spoke to the world in 2015 with its high-speed rock gardens and heavy metal hucks reduced to slime and deathly slippery rocks in a matter of snowflakes.

 

Aaron Gwin: Fresh team, Porsche on the drive… Gwin has started his year exactly as he wished. But will he pull out another big win as in 2015? I know where my money would go (even if he is a little sideways in the previous shot!).

A drying track doused with brief but heavy showers in the afternoon showed no signs of relent in its attempts to upturn even the best in the business. Will it, won’t it? Those above are clearly undecided on this mountain bike lark and unsure whether we deserve a soaking this week. Either way, it isn’t looking good for Saturday (qualifying day) if a forecast in a place like this is anything to go by.

Even when you have plate number 3 you still have to queue up. Troy Brosnan waits his turn.

Whatever the case though, the gamble is equal for all and those who have it, really do have it. While the unseasoned racers stressed and strained over the course’s notable features – the unruly opening rock garden, the deathly steep ‘Wall’, the balls-to-the-wall hucks down low – those in the know made the most of their training time and took few risks. Riding the long way round for practice and saving something for later in the weekend is the thinking rider’s game, and while the likes of Bryceland and Minnaar made decisions to lower their risk factor today, that may just be an insight into a smart game that will pan out come finals.

Rachel Atherton had an off week in the run up to Lourdes World Cup, but what she described as ‘a bit of flu’ doesn’t seem to have slowed her down or lowered her motivation.
Just like North Wales… kind of. Tahnee Seagrave on her way up.
First time for an old timer… or at least it seems that way. Junior rider Finn Iles final gets his chance to race World Cups this year, and it will be very interesting to see what he does.
Oh how we would like it to be Connor Fearon’s year. Got to be one of Dirt’s favourite riders.
There are stories everywhere. One of the main ones being, what will happen in the women’s race with Emmeline Ragot retiring and Myriam Nicole out with injury? Will the likes of Tracey Hannah (here) be able to stem the British flood?
Sixth here last year for Brendan Fairclough, oh how we would love to see him on the podium come Sunday afternoon.
Remi Thirion looked composed and confident even in the grimiest of grease.
Exciting times for the Athertons. Surely there can almost be nothing greater to focus an athlete’s mind than a new bike and a new season? We expect a lot from Gee this year. No pressure!

 

Oh yeah. After a disappointing 2015 Sam Hill is back and ready for it. Lourdes in the wet must be music to his ears?
“Was that a girl or a man with long hair?” A miracle perhaps? The marshals on course were clearly confused as Josh Bryceland glided by in such feathery-light fashion. Ratboy was looking FAST on course.
Ohla. A winter of sunshine and good times – with a work placement to keep him honest – and World Champion Loic Bruni looks on top of his game. Flat out fast and confident from the get-go, Bruni’s new Specialized looks only to have upped his game. Look out Lourdes.
Another rider who could, and should, thrive in these conditions. Could Danny Hart be the wildcard to take the win? Why not.
Marcelo Gutierrez had a storming year in 2015, and it will be interesting to see how he does here on slippy French rock and root.
Stevie Smith has kind of been under the radar recently. Lets not forget that he won the overall title a few years ago. He is perfectly placed to take this series by the scruff of the neck and make it his.
Loic Bruni once again. He may be World Champion, but that first ever World Cup win still eludes him. It is only a matter of time, but could he do it here on home soil?
The ‘other’ American. Lets not forget that Luca Shaw had a great year in 2015, finishing (as his number plate tells us) 18th overall.
Marcelo G dropping in.
Mike Jones know that he can do well here on this track. Last year he made the podium and shocked the downhill world in the process. Let’s hope he can do it again.
Bryceland… moto stylee.
You can sure that there will be plenty more of this over the next few days. Qualifying... bring it on.

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