It’s been 18 years since the Cairns jungle hosted a UCI Mountain Bike event, it was the year of 1996 when the world championships came to Australia, Vouilloz, Palmer, Bas de Bever were the top riders 18 years ago. Bikes and kit have evolved massively since then, but amazingly the same jungle track is being used for round two of the UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup. Many changes have been made to the course but it still follows the original line down the mountain.
Tight switchbacks up top get all the riders prepared for the biggest rock garden of the track; rocks covered in slippy moss didn’t make things easier for the riders on the monumental rock section. Then, after they had negotiated the rocks, an off camber root section was waiting just around the corner. If the roots were conquered it was on to one of the jump sections before heading back into some tight switchbacks and a 360 degree bridge crossing. A bit of MX magic was thrown in the track, a rather large whoop section set yourself up nicely for another few jumps, before heading back into the jungle singletrack for some more rooty goodness, A long flat sprint to the finish line was the last obstacle for the riders before crossing the line. Miami Bryce taking over from Peaty this week on the helmet cam run.
Unfortunately for all riders the weather was against them this weekend, rain, rain and more rain made conditions even harder. Practice day proved how hard the race was going to be, the rain had made the normally dusty track into a thick clay mess.
After the track drying out a little but still holding a lot of moisture, the mud turned into a thick cement-like substance, many riders said it was probably faster to get off and run at some points in the track.
Sam Blenkinsop was No.1 qualifier, followed closely by round one winner Aaron Gwin, current world champion Greg Minnaar sat in 3rd with surprise qualifiers Eddy Masters in 4th and Sam Dale in 5th. Rachel Atherton got herself back on the top spot qualifying first in front of Carpenter and Ragot. Loris Vergier took the Junior No.1 qualifying spot away from round one winner Luca Shaw.
Race day had finally arrived, a lack of rain since qualification had given the track some time to dry out a bit more, making the conditions a lot better for all the riders.
Junior men were up first tackling the still fairly wet jungle track, last year’s overall winner French rider Loris Vergier reclaimed top spot over Aussie star Aiden Varley. 3rd and 4th spot were claimed by British riders Neil Stewart who took the last podium spot, with Taylor Vernon clinching 4th.
After each rider came down the hill the track was getting faster and faster. The women were up next, Rachel Atherton followed up her amazing qualifier putting 11 seconds into fellow Brit Manon Carpenter who claimed second place. Myriam Nicole and Emmiline Ragot took 3rd and 4th spot, local Aussie rider Tracey Hannah matching her Pietermaritzburg result with a well deserved 5th place.
With Rachel back on the top step, it was time for the world’s best men to come down the mountain.
Chain Reaction Cycles/Nukeproof rider Sam Hill put down a storming run sitting him in 5th place, his first world cup podium of 2014. Round 1 winner Aaron Gwin claiming his second podium of the season in 4th just behind fellow American Neko Mulally, who puts a fantastic run into 3rd, his first world cup podium of his career.
Josh Bryceland rode hard on the day putting a good 2.71 seconds into Mulally and placing him on the hot seat. Unfortunately for Josh, Gee Atherton was unstoppable, 4.22 seconds faster put Atherton on top, taking his first world cup win of the season.
“That was amazing, totally wild, I’m so stoked with the double win, Rach rode it like a boss.” Gee Atherton.
One of the biggest stories came from the 40 minute course hold they had due to a bizarre incident on course, after Adam Brayton cased a jump mid-track causing him to hit a tree, the Hope Technology rider sustained a 28cm gash to his shin. Adam posted a picture of the gash on his instagram page. This picture is very graphic, if you’re a bit squeamish we’d recommend to not click the link. You have been warned. Have a look at Adam’s leg here. Due to the track’s inaccessibility, riders are evacuated up or down the track. With the course closed, a spectator kindly offered to take Brayton’s bike down the hill. And so, Aussie downhiller Ben McGowan rode the bike down with no helmet or any kind of protection. Unfortunately for Ben he came a cropper on the whoop section resulting in two broken vertebrae and a dislocated shoulder, once again this content is graphic and not for the squeamish, watch Ben’s crash here:
Ben is in a good condition and is set to make a full recovery, we hope to see Ben back out on a bike and having fun soon. Healing vibes coming your way from everyone at Singletrack, Ben. Ironically, Ben ended up sharing an ambulance with Adam, the bike’s owner, to hospital.
So there you have it, round 2 of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is over, with the Athertons taking the top spots again they go into Fort William confident and eager to re-claim last year’s victories. Cairns had everything: jungle critters, rain, bizarre crashes and some incredible racing.