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It Only Takes One to Win: Lourdes World Cup Qualifying

Two Frenchmen and a Brit walk into a bar...

One point of note that seems continually recurring at Lourdes World Cup is the confidence emanating from a certain Frenchman. Loic Bruni has an air to him as we begin the 2016 season – the stride of a man who knows in no uncertain terms where his abilities lie.

Words: James McKnight         Photos: Seb Schieck and Ben Winder

While Bruni’s modest character would never allow ego, from run one on this oh-so-unnerving of downhill tracks the man’s sturdy poise and pinpoint accuracy on the most treacherous of surfaces alluded to a rider on top of his game. There is simply no one who has come close to looking as calm yet flat-out fast as Loic Bruni this week.

Bruni. The main man. What more needs to be said?

His sheer dominance of qualifying – a win of over five seconds – confirming visual speed. I have a funny feeling those World Champion’s stripes and the singular win they signify may just have marked a turning point for the previously unfortunate Frenchman…

 

Josh Bryceland reportedly took a tumble in his qualifying run, and definitely looked to have something in reserve as he cruised casually out of a tricky left turn mid-track. Enough to upset the World Champ?

And everyone else…

The sport’s greats were present throughout the day’s stories. Remi Thirion absent due to a sprained wrist sustained on Friday; Gee Atherton surviving what could have been a grim fate down the famous Wall in practice; Greg Minnaar low-siding in a fast left hander in qualifying; Steve Peat still schooling the majority of young talents and comfortably into the finals.

Gee Atherton took one hell of a crash down the Wall in practice, but come qualifying time the consummate professional had everything in place to put him third in the first qualifying run of the 2016 season. He’s set off on a good foot with new sponsor Trek. Oh and he boosted the sh1t out of the rock huck!

2015 Lourdes winner Aaron Gwin fell foul to the greasy conditions in the most unlikely of places – away from the savagery of rocks and steep and instead at the entry to the track’s wide-open mid-section. He was already a couple of seconds down on the World Champion though and couldn’t match his speed anywhere on track. Gwin scrambled a top-ten.

Gwin took a trip off the side of the course not in one of the standout sections but at the exit of an awkward rocky right hander. He took a few moments to remount and lost vital speed before the wide open straight mid-course, but he probably wouldn’t have challenged Bruni’s superb qualifier anyway.

Bryceland, Atherton, Smith and Brosnan took positions 2-5 in that order; all previous World Cup winners with a chance of hassling he who leadeth in tomorrow’s finals. They’ve got a fair deficit to make up though.

Good to see Stevie Smith on form and into the top five qualifying. He’s been looking seriously confident on track.
Greg Minnaar sat 7th at the first split then crashed mid-way down the track as he exited the fastest straight on course. The way Minnaar likes to build speed as he works down the course leads one to think that with a clean run we definitely shouldn’t be counting the most successful ever male World Cup racer out of the question.
A great result for Propain Dirt Zelvy team rider Phil Atwill in 18th. It's not all just pissing about you know! Hang in there Phil.

The rest of the top 20 was crammed with big names, and dominated by France and Britain with 35% and 30% respectively. Standout rides came from Alexandre Fayolle in 11th, Rudy Cabirou in 15th (remember his big result here in 2015?), Thomas Estaque in 17th, Dirt’s own madman Phil Atwill in 18th and brothers Amaury and Baptiste Pierron in 19th and 20th.

Check out the full men’s qualifying results here

Tahnee Seagrave crashed on course and rode across the line bemused that she had been able to better Atherton by three seconds. Fair play!

Women

While Bruni’s qualifying win was easy to call for anyone who has been trackside, Elite Women and Juniors raised some eyebrows.

Tahnée Seagrave’s talent is always clear when she is on two wheels, however, a mid-run crash should have put her out of contention… should have, but she blitzed the rest of her run and even with said incident raced into first place, a full three seconds ahead of World Champion Rachel Atherton in second place.

It is going to take something special (or untoward) to keep these three off the podium tomorrow. (L-R) Seagrave, Carpenter and Atherton.

Manon Carpenter solidified a British 1-2-3. Emelie Siegenthaler and Morgane Charre rounded out the top five.

Rachel Atherton didn’t have any real woes on her qualifying run. It just seems such a surprise when she isn’t sitting in 1st place!

Did Atherton take a cruiser? Unlikely – but Seagrave’s momentum down the hill will certainly have shaken her rivals up ready for a fierce battle in Sunday’s finals.

View full women’s qualifying results here

None of this means the race is called though. In a week of up-and-down weather affecting such an equally hit-or-miss course, Sunday’s finals are all to pray for.

Second year junior privateer Kevin Marry from the south of France took qualifying by storm. First in all the splits and a clear two seconds ahead at the line.

Junior Men

All eyes have been on Specialized/SRAM’s youngster Finn Iles this weekend as the junior to beat, but the Canadian’s lack of years got the better of his all-out speed come quali time. Iles was seen tangled in netting near the foot of the hill.

Matt Walker (here) and Charlie Hatton represented the UK in 2nd and 3rd respectively in junior seeding.

Elsewhere in a stacked Junior field it was another Frenchman leading the charge; Kevin Marry was untouchable with a 1-1-1 at the splits and a two-second lead over the UK’s Matt Walker in second and a further three to Charlie Hatton in third. Iles was just off Marry’s pace before his crash.

Full Junior results here

 

Wow. The crowd in Lourdes is something else. Down through the steep lower woods spectators are packed in between the trees in their thousands. The noise is unimaginable, the atmosphere riveting. Horses for courses!
Fearon blitzed the turns in trademark style to rocket into 8th qualifying.
Gee Atherton may be looking a bit pensive here, but he nailed it. He’s a few seconds off, but all that can change. Third place.
A solid seventh place for Marcelo Gutierrez. That is right where he wants to be on this treacherous track.
This is Steve Peat's final year racing World Cups and 48th here is a great way to kick it off...
... and we guess that is one way of covering up the National jersey. French rules state that you must where body armour. How fortuitous!!!
Manon Carpenter is looking on form and up for some big results this year.
New team and now racing in the senior category. Laurie Greenland qualified in 45th place. All set for a stormer come race day.
Finn Iles was nipping at Kevin Marry’s heels at split 3 before crashing and getting caught in some safety netting. It could be a tight race tomorrow.
Good old Brendan Fairclough. A revamped bike seems to be working for the king of cool. Sixth place is no mean feat. Podium Sunday?
Now just play it calm Matt (Walker), keep it all together… what finals may bring.
Oh...
La...
La... some people will do anything for money!!!

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