World Champs – redux

Photos: Seb Schieck

Cairns wasn’t a vintage World Champs, but it was one packed with stories and intrigue. We doubt anyone correctly predicted all three winners but the lottery is what makes downhill racing so enticing.

Amid all the broadcast drama, questionable tracks and Instagrams of beach sunsets, here are our takeaways from the 2017 World Champs.

Bruni shouldn’t have been overlooked

Winner in Cairns in 2016, former World Champ, fourth in the overall in 2017 with three podiums – there was no reason that Loic Bruni shouldn’t have been one of the favourites for Cairns. It hadn’t been his strongest year in the World Cup but you can never discount the French when the Rainbow stripes are up for grabs.

Bruni had a quiet week in Cairns letting the Aussies soak up the pressure and attention but he’d worked hard for this behind the scenes. While everyone was focussing on the rock garden and the final sprint, he put in an incredible middle sector on the tight singletrack to set-up his win.

Despite a rough World Cup season and plenty of adversity, Bruni proved he could pull it all together for one run at the end of the year. Reminds us of another Frenchman we know…


Hannah Heartbreak

Second place will be a bitter-sweet pill to swallow for Mick Hannah. It’s a stunning result, his best since winning in Vigo in 2006, but to be so close to a win and sealing that fairytale win after four years of prep will be agonising.

Looking back on it though, there was not much more he could have done. His knowledge of the track won him the fastest split through the tricky top section and his frightening power gifted him nearly a second and a half on the bottom pedal. In the end it was just the sheer brilliance of Bruni that denied him the special win.

Tracey was also hot favourite to win the women’s race too but a slide out on some off camber roots that ended her day early. Some criticism has been shot her way for the amount of time she spent on the ground but it turns out she was actually knocked out in the fall, to get up and finish third after that is something remarkable.

Guts, power, excitement and heart – both the Hannahs gave everything for this weekend. While they didn’t get the results they came for, they certainly won’t be looking back at the race with any regrets.

Gwin’s first World Champs medal

One of the mysteries of modern downhill is Gwin’s inability to put it together at Worlds. Prior to Cairns he had chased the Rainbow eight times in a streak that included four race run crashes, two mechanicals, a DNS and a no-show.

Gwin may seem like one of the most mentally resolute competitors on the circuit but World Champs was a niggling worm that wouldn’t go away. In the past Gwin has said he doesn’t value the race as much as a World Cup series but the longer the drought goes on, the more he seems to want it. In Cairns, the first rain clouds started to form.

It wasn’t Gwin at his best (he actually rode the bottom half of the track with his shock locked out) but he finally got on the box and has a first World Champs medal. With some of Gwin’s favourite tracks hosting the race in the next few years, he’ll be chasing it harder than ever.

Rise of the Aussies

There was to be no home glory for the Aussies in Cairns but with four of them in the top six, they were well in the hunt. It’s easy to write off the result as home advantage but look down the timing sheet at any World Cup and it won’t take you long to find Jack Moir, Troy Brosnan, Connor Fearon and Dean Lucas.

This is the generation that was raised on Rennie, Kovarik and, of course, Sam Hill knocking seven bells out of the World Cup field and they’re starting to show they can do it too. In Cairns we got a taste of just how dominant the Aussies can be once again.

Sam Hill

There’s no way we could talk about Cairns without mentioning the return of the Flat Pedal Thunder to Down Under. Sam Hill turned up on his trail bike and turned the internet upside down.

Unexpectedly, he didn’t leave the rest of the field behind on the bottom pedal, meaning he was mixing it up with the World Cup’s best on the top two sections. Hill will now take the same bike to Finale in October on the hunt for an Enduro World Series overall. Some boy.

The Worst World Champs for Brits in years

Seagrave and Brayton were the best placed Brits with 11th and 13th place finishes respectively. You have to go back to 1996 (and the last time we were in Cairns) for there not to be a Brit in the top ten finishers at Worlds in the men’s and Les Gets ’04 for the women.

Of course, Worlds is just one race and Team GB was struck with a bout of bad luck in the run up to and during the week of it but the Brit domination of the current decade has definitely been challenged.

Thankfully redemption came from Matt Walker and Joe Breeden who put together a 1-2 domination of the junior field and we expect the elites to be firing on all cylinders again in Croatia next year.

Miller delivers

A massive part of racing is getting your head straight and stringing together the best run you can. There weren’t many people betting on Miller before the Sunday but you can only beat what turns up – and she did.

It’s the perfect way for Miller to round off her first full-time, professional season and she’ll no doubt be charging harder with a bit more belief behind her next year. Canada has its first downhill World Champion since Cindy Devine in 1990.

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