We got a little glimpse today of a what we’d call a dream situation, which we can only hope plays out again tomorrow. The sun burst through, making for spectacular conditions on both the XCO and downhill course, and Aussie riders threw down some world-beating riding, grabbing great results in the downhill qualifying. Sleep with your fingers and toes crossed, people, we’d love to see this again tomorrow.
The day started in soggy fashion, riders emerging from the downhill track coated in filth, which sent mechanics from the more well-resourced teams into a frenzy of mud-proofing. Spike tyres, silicone spray, moto-foam in every crevice – it was all about making the bikes shed mud. The particular blend of Cairns mud is so gloopy, it can easily add a few kilos to a bike, which you’ve then got to haul across the dreaded flat sprint into the finish, so keeping it mud free is all important.
As it would pan it, all the panic was soon replaced with more positive vibes as the tropical sun that’s been playing hide-and-seek these last few days finally made a more sustained appearance. Things dried out fast with the 30-degree heat and breeze, leaving the track in ideal condition for downhill qualifying.
Far more cross-country riders were in attendance today as well, with the first official practice sessions getting underway. The XCO course here in Cairns draws universal praise from riders; it’s not just a straight up and down sufferfest, but has some genuinely good fun flow to it as well as plenty of technical challenge. The huge Australian junior contingent eagerly made the most of practice, mixing it up with sweating Europeans who were heard cursing the humidity.
We didn’t catch a glimpse of either of Australia’s medal hopefuls Dan McConnell or Bec Henderson, but Julien Absalon was out there and riding with a dropper post too. He was happy to point out that even if it didn’t actually make him go faster, he was having a lot more fun with it on the bike!
The crowds on course for downhill qualifying were doing their best to make it feel like race day up there. We hope they’ve all still got voices left to yell for tomorrow!
They’ll have plenty to scream about too, with Mick Hannah and Troy Brosnan qualifying in first and second, ensuring they’ll be the last two riders down the hill tomorrow! The atmosphere is going to be wilder than Bull Riding night at Slippery Jim’s Backpacker Shed, Cairns. Tracey Hannah has been looking solid and focused this week too, and her third place today shows that she’s right on pace with Manon Carpenter and Rachel Atherton too. A Hannah double would be the dream outcome; we’ve had a taste that it’s possible now, so join us tomorrow to see if it can become reality.
Lanky Russ Nankervis letting it run on the jump line of the XCO descent.
The XCO descent is super varied – up top it’s steeper and more technical with slower rock rollers and chutes, down low it’s a fast, flowing run with multiple line options.
Julie Bresset, 2013 World Champ, looking comfortable in the greasy run in to the Rodeo Drop.
The Rodeo Drop is a pretty sizeable huck on an XC bike. There is a wheels-on-the-ground option, but it’s much slower. Plenty of riders spent time here today, sessioning this section till they had the speed for the run-in dialled.
Small lady, big drop! This really gives you an idea of how decent a drop it is!
Holly Harris is riding impressively! She spent a bit of time sizing up the main line on Jacob’s Ladder today, before rolling in and nailing it.
The TORQ Team watch on as another rider commits to Jacobs Ladder.
Ethan Kelly, in baggies and smooth as you like.
The XCO course has been mellowed a little since 2014, but it’s still rocky as hell in many places, and there were plenty of white-knuckled moments on course today during practice.
Jacobs Ladder is definitely on the steep side of what you’d ever want to attempt on an XC bike with your seat up. But to take the B-line will costs at least a few places.
PDVP, the big man making some rocks rumble.
Tristan Ward was impressive at the National Champs recently, so expect some full-throttle riding. Checkers or cooked.
Aaron Gwin graffitiing some poor child’s clothing.
Rachel Atherton chills out with her helmet cam footage and an icy pole. That’s the factory racing life – beats pitting out of the back of your Corolla with packet of Twisties and a borrowed pressure washer.
You should see the other guy.
As the course dried up, the pressure washer queue got much shorter.
That’s a choking hazard there, Tim! Timmy Eaton keeps his perm dry.
Nothing suss here.
Josh Button is racing the entire season of World Cups. This guy is one of the most under-rated riders on the circuit. 15th in qualifying today.
Mean pins on Connor Fearon’s pedals to bite through the gloop.
Scary looking spikes to match his pedals too. Fearon’s rig once again.
The exit of Alien Tree was still causing dramas, even with the drier conditions it was greasy. Quentin Chanudet.
Keegan Wright taming the squirrel.
Thankfully it was a much more relaxed day for the paramedics.
Remi Thirion. Respect to Flipper for the inspiration.
Thomas Crimmins doing all he can to not snag up in the rocks before a deafening crowd. 67th qualifier.
Jack Moir. He’s not yet at 100% after surgery, but he’ll be back to his best soon. He’s sensibly wearing some shoulder protection for peace of mind. Keep it upright, Shark Attack!
Neil Stewart scraped into the finals, 75th qualifier, with the sickest whip on track too (see below).
Dean Lucas rode into 53rd. He’ll want to go much better than that tomorrow – he’s had a taste of the podium before.
Somehow Laurie Greenland rode this out to the amazement of the crowd. Madness! 29th qualifier.
It may have only been qualies, but the crowd up top was big and loud. It felt like race day already. Tomorrow will be huge with all the locals off work, well lubricated with XXXX and hoping for crashes.
Luca Shaw will be happy with 34th. He’s got a lot of promise as a first year Elite.
Ed Masters didn’t seem on full pace today, but still rode into 35th. His brother, Wyn, was quite a way back in 74th.
Loic Bruni had magic tyres on today, finding traction where other people were in a world of floundering. Sublime stuff from the World Champ.
RatBlur! Josh Bryceland always seems so casual. He bounces and slides his way down, never looking the fastest but somehow setting blistering times. The crowd love him too, and so do we.
It’s no surprise to see Troy as the fastest qualifier today. His riding flows like water, and he’s spent plenty of time on this track. We hope he can string it together tomorrow.
Stevie Smith skipping over the roots, feet up. He’s a real dark horse, and looking for a comeback after two season hampered by injury.
Danni Beecroft is back on it after a year recovering from a nasty broken elbow.
Local superstar Tracey Hannah took third today, but she only wants the top step here in her hometown.
The local Mens Shed had the absolutely golden idea of running a sausage sizzle up the top of the hill. Market cornered! They’d better have lots of stock for tomorrow!
Jackson Frew pops out of the corkscrew. Nailing the right line here was crucial to set up for Mick’s Drop and the stutters beyond.
A Bird Flew Over the Carnage Nest.
Eliot Jackson keeping it uncharacteristically low and straight. Something must be wrong!
Dave McMillan will always, always put on a show. He carved so hard off the lip of this jump that he almost ended up in the crowd. 63rd for the Vanzac.
Neat form from Jordan Prochyra. 80th qualifier with two crashes! He’ll be the first elite down the hill tomorrow.
Neil Stewart takes us to Whip School.
Sik Mik showed us he can win here with a second place in qualies today. He’ll be wanting this one more than ever. Go for it, mate! We want to see Cairns go into meltdown if you win!
Mad man Remi Thirion always takes the big line. 20th place today.
Blenkinsop sailing into the stutters. He was one of the few riders quading into this section with amazing precision.
Sam Hill rode into 24th hampered by illness. He’s not at full speed, but you never know with this guy, he keeps his cards close to his chest.
Minnaar might be somewhat outshone by Ratboy of late, but you’d be mad to think he’s past it. 37th today, but there’ll be more speed in reserve.
Mike Jones, fully committed.
Fearon blasting into the stutters and 9th place, six seconds back.
Loic Bruni is just incredible to watch. He’s stronger, faster and now better supported than ever.
Gee Atherton was very fast in the upper parts of the course, losing a bit of pace down low. He won here in 2014. Will it be an Atherton double again?
Stevie Smith. Railing above the stutters.
100% PINNED. Gwin has a style all of his own, and it’s STRONG.
Tracey Hannah using all the travel she has as she touches down on the Ridgeline.
A bird’s eye view of the event centre. There’s more elevation here than you’d imagine when you first see the hill.