Smithfield Mountain Bike Park in Cairns, Australia, is a classic venue. The jungle-covered hillside first held a World Champs race way back in 1996 and this past weekend, some 21 years later, the world’s best returned for another epic battle.
Although not the most technical track on the circuit, Cairns always throws up some challenges, whether that be monsoon rainstorms or axle-deep dust. It was the latter this year, and a big challenge for the riders, besides gnarly rock gardens and root strewn off-cambers, was treading that fine line between speed and traction. Even if they managed to walk that tightrope of compromise, they were still not out of the woods – a monster flat pedalling section stood between them and the finish. Any racer who expended all their energy further up the track or had been slacking on their training was very quickly shown up at this season finale.
These days, Sam Hill isn’t shy of a bit of pedalling – the downhill legend and current EWS series leader made a comeback at Cairns for his home World Champs. Racing on his enduro bike, he set a blisteringly fast time which stood until hometown hero Mick Hannah knocked him off the hot seat. Sam finished up in sixth place – a gallant effort.
Mick had, in fact, missed the last World Cup in Val Di Sole to train for this race, which was probably the biggest of his career. He did well to handle the pressure, riding an almost mistake-free run, and the horsepower he laid down on the final sprint was ridiculous. Rider after rider failed to match his time and it was looking like a fairytale ending until Loic Bruni took to the hill. There must be something about the Aussie dirt that suits the Frenchman, because following on from a World Cup win here last year, he pulled one out of the bag and squeezed into first place, just 0.3 seconds ahead of Mick.
Neither Aaron Gwin nor Troy Brosnan could match his time, and with a puncture putting the seemingly ever unlucky Greg Minnaar out of contention, Loic held onto the top spot to take his second World Champs gold medal. After a less than perfect season, it was awesome to see him win, but we can’t help feeling sorry for Hannah, who was denied a home victory by the slightest of margins.
Unfortunately for the Hannah family, their luck didn’t improve in the women’s race. Mick’s sister, Tracey, was the crowd favourite, but after a storming top section it all went wrong for her, as she washed out on a tricky off-camber. With Rachel Atherton out of contention because of a broken collarbone sustained earlier in the week, British hopes lay with Tahnée Seagrave. The winner of three World Cups this year attacked hard, but became another victim of the loose conditions.
The last rider to drop in was this year’s World Cup series winner, Myriam Nicole, who came so very close to taking the win, but finished 0.1seconds back, leaving Canadian Miranda Miller to take home gold and her first ever rainbow jersey. Without wanting to take anything away from her victory, it’s worth noting that even with a big off-the-bike crash, Tracey finished less than two seconds back, so there’s no denying she was on a flyer.
Disappointments in the British camp were alleviated by the junior men’s race though, where it was two lads from the Midlands, Matt Walker and Joe Breeden, who took the gold and silver positions. It’s great to see the strength of young talent that’s emerging from our domestic race scene and we can’t wait to see how they both fare in the senior ranks. To read more about Joe and his approach to racing, check back to our Fort William feature in MBUK 345, and stay tuned for more on Matt, coming up in MBUK 348.
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