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.
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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!).
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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.

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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.

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