The world of XCO racing is about to go full gas for a few months, in the run up to World Championships through the World Cup, and then onto the Olympics in Rio. As the first round, the UCI XCO World Cup in Cairns was going to be intense. And today it didn’t disappoint.
While we already took a look through the pits at pro bikes and how their mechanics keep them running, and we took a look at race winner Nino Schurter’s bike before the race, the real story is best told via images from the course.
The racing in Cairns looks unlike other World Cups, with the red dirt, tropical rainforest, and the Australian crowds. There’s also the added bonus of more green and gold jerseys in the races, thanks to the increased number of U23 riders who can more easily make it north than across the globe.
Coming to the event centre at the Cairns MTB world cup is like turning up at a mountain bike enthusiasts dream palace!! Exhibitions, up front access to all the global teams and sneak peeks at the latest technology on offer from manufacturers! But it is when the start whistle blows that the real excitement begins
With preparations for the 2017 MTB world championship well underway, the course in the backyard of James Cook University has become a short loop with plenty of opportunities to view your idols on many occasions. A 4X style loop that intersects the race village allows the more idle spectator to get a full range view of the riders on multiple occasions without leaving the temporary grandstand structure.
The U23 Men at Smithfield – Gaze wins the gallop
With buckets of horsepower and even more talent, the U23 men’s field was raring to go at 9am. In a blur of skinsuits and aggression, the field took off – thankfully without the start line crash.
Soon enough Sam Gaze was in a lead group with Romain Seigle and Titouan Carod. While Scott Bowden, the Australian U23 Champ, was chasing behind, he would finish 7th after a broken spoke on the last lap meant he needed to temper his speed.
Langvad crushes all comers in Cairns World Cup
After a pause, the Elite women and U23 women were due on course. With some very light rain blowing in, many wondered what would happen to the course.
During the women’s race I ventured up the hillside to catch the action on some of the more technical aspects of the course including ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ and ‘The Crocslide’. Witnessing the riders tackle the treacherous terrain with gumption and guts is a rush for the fan and the rider alike. During the day, thousands of people lined areas of the course creating a wall of noise for the more popular riders as they struggled through the tough, dusty and technical conditions.
Watching the feed zone workers hard at work ensuring their athletes are all ok each lap also gives an insight as to what goes on in a world class mountain bike race and the amount of encouragement and support from others that many athletes have at their service.
This atmosphere gives a rider a boost and creates more risk taking, showmanship and exciting racing. The nature of XC courses in recent years has veered toward far shorter courses jammed into a much smaller area.
Schurter v Absalon at the Cairns World Cup
The battles between Absalon and Schurter are almost reminiscent of Cadel Evans v Miguel Martinez! Although while Cadel is retired, Martinez was still racing here today.
The start loop was fast, and home favourite Dan McConnell was in a great position after the first lap, although Julien Absalon wasn’t looking so good with a flat tyre!
Schurter raced hard at the front with Fluckiger and Maxime Marotte, but Absalon continued to charge through the field after his wheel change. Absalon wasn’t the only one with wheel and tyre and air issues, there were plenty of broken carbon wheels and flat tyres throughout the field. McConnell’s race ended with a double flat and he had to finish 31st.
Schurter won solo and in style, taking the leader’s jersey for the start of the World Cup. With four weeks for riders to go away and fine tune form and equipment, Tropical North Queensland now has a little over a year to make sure the event, and the courses, are everything they need to be for the World Championships.
Make your way to Cairns for the World Championships in 2017, you will not be disappointed!