Words by Flow | Images by Flow

Welcome back to Cairns, where the only thing scarier than the crocodiles are backpackers at the Woolshed on Cheap Tuesdays, and, of course, the world’s slipperiest rock garden. You might remember it from 2014 – its jagged teeth have surely been on a few riders’ minds since then, and it was back causing havoc today as riders took to the hill for day one of downhill practice.

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Dramatic scenes of sugar cane and big mountains.

Dramatic scenes of sugar cane and big mountains.

Batty locals going balmy.

Batty locals going balmy.

A warm welcome to a city excited to host this event.

A warm welcome to a city excited to host this event.

Cairns has had an incredibly dry ‘wet’ season so far, but that has been threatening to change today. Showers blowing through ensured that even the dense jungle canopy couldn’t keep the rain out, turning sections of the course into an icy gloop that had a least one World Champion Frenchmen muttering, “merde”.

We’re not likely to see the weather deteriorate to the extent of the 2014 World Cup here (AKA. The peanut butter suprise) but mud is definitely going to be part of the game once again. Who can keep it upright when they roll the dice in some of the truly slippery sections?

Mick Hannah, hunting through the Ridgeline. He'll be aching to do well here.

Mick Hannah, hunting through the Ridgeline. He’ll be aching to do well here.

Besides the threat of rain, the other story of the day was, unfortunately, injury. No one likes to see a rider down, but three serious injuries in quick succession on the high speed Ridgeline jumps put things on hold for a couple of hours, while the riders were carted out. Our thoughts and healing vibes go out to all the riders and their families, as there were some pretty frightening scenes.

We also hope that the UCI can work out a better plan for handling severely injured riders on this course, because it’s horrible to see a rider in pain laying trackside when they should be in ER half an hour ago. While the far more important issue is getting the riders to care safely and quickly, the delays also meant that practice was cut short for both Group B and A, which raised a few grumbles on the hillside.

No rain shortages here, despite a comparatively dry 'wet season'.

No rain shortages here, despite a comparatively dry ‘wet season’.

To the UCI’s credit, after the injuries, they were quick to step in and slow down the entry to the jumps by bunting the run-in a little tighter.

The course is largely unchanged from 2014. The rock garden is still one of the most intimidating pieces of trail you’ll ever see; with a bit of mud on it, it’s slicker than a greased piglet. When you see the world’s best riders reduced to a tripodding, traffic-jammed pile you know it’s hard to ride. Brook MacDonold and Josh Button were just about the only riders we saw hammer through cleanly on their first run. Josh Bryceland was reduced to a giggling mess, “Oh my word! I’ll be putting on flat pedals for sure!” he laughed in his usual Manchurian way.

As noted above, the Alien Tree is causing all kinds of dramas too – high line, low line, no line, it doesn’t matter. Only the most committed are getting by without a dab. Speaking of commitment, the way riders were sending the final massive triple on the Ridgeline was pretty terrifying to watch – the sound of rubber and carbon in severe protest as it slams to the ground from 20 feet up at 50km/h is awesome.

The Corkscrew and Mick’s Drop are unchanged, but the whoops have been given a bit of a sharpen up, so they’re even more imposing than before. Two years of weather have made sure the bottom section of the course is raw and exposed – ruts and roots, a proper bobsled. Finally, riders will need to find a little more length than before to clear Ronning’s Ramp, the last jump on the course has been stretched out to give riders a bit more down ramp to work.

As we type, the rain has stopped sprinkling, but who knows what tomorrow will bring? This is Cairns after all.

Aaron Gwin looks insanely stable. A likely winner we feel.

Aaron Gwin looks insanely stable. A likely winner we feel.

Cairns Day 1-19
Brosnan, second in timed practice, still looks like he's riding well within his limits.

Brosnan, second in timed practice, still looks like he’s riding well within his limits.

A toe is not a camel. Appropriate footwear.

A toe is not a camel. Appropriate footwear.

Plenty of this action today!

Plenty of this action today!

Brosnan once again, lethal style.

Brosnan once again, lethal style.

Sam Blenkinsop's style is unmistakable.

Sam Blenkinsop’s style is unmistakable.

Cairns Day 1-13
Atherton, returning from orbit on the Ridgelne.

Atherton, returning from orbit on the Ridgelne.

The Syndicate bros survey the rock garden carnage.

The Syndicate bros survey the rock garden carnage.

Wreckage. Yuck....

Wreckage. Yuck….

Praying for better weather.

Praying for better weather.

After the serious crashes, the UCI re-bunted the course to slow things down.

After the serious crashes, the UCI re-bunted the course to slow things down.

Cairns Day 1-7
Half icy mud, half pointy rocks - it's not a friendly track.

Half icy mud, half pointy rocks – it’s not a friendly track.

Glooped.

Glooped.

The waiting game.

The waiting game.

Remy Morton, burying into some gnar.

Remy Morton, burying into some gnar.

Out of the whoops in a rare spot of sunshine.

Out of the whoops in a rare spot of sunshine.

Graeme Mudd is going to do very well here - top 15 finish at least.

Graeme Mudd is going to do very well here – top 15 finish at least.

On the gas in the final sprint to the finish. It's definitely a faster finish than in 2014.

On the gas in the final sprint to the finish. It’s definitely a faster finish than in 2014.

DISASTER.

DISASTER.

Loris Vergier building speed in Generator, lining it up for Ronning's Ramp.

Loris Vergier building speed in Generator, lining it up for Ronning’s Ramp.

Spike tyres were pretty standard fare today, and probably will be all weekend.

Spike tyres were pretty standard fare today, and probably will be all weekend.

Heaps rooted, mate.

Heaps rooted, mate.

Tahnee Seagrave will find more pace before Saturday. She took silver in Lourdes, can she go one better?

Tahnee Seagrave will find more pace before Saturday. She took silver in Lourdes, can she go one better?

The ruts are growing faster than underpant mushrooms in a backpacker van.

The ruts are growing faster than underpant mushrooms in a backpacker van.

Jackson Frew, cranking it over.

Jackson Frew, cranking it over.

The Queen. Rachel Atherton.

The Queen. Rachel Atherton.

Ratboy. Long hair, don't care. The kid is a unit, but we love him.

Ratboy. Long hair, don’t care. The kid is a unit, but we love him.

Sam Hill, hub deep in Cairns.

Sam Hill, hub deep in Cairns.

Fairclough. This isn't his kind of track, or is it? Too much pedalling, or will the mud suit him?

Fairclough. This isn’t his kind of track, or is it? Too much pedalling, or will the mud suit him?

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Bruni. It's hard to keep it low when you're going a billion.

Bruni. It’s hard to keep it low when you’re going a billion.

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Remi Thirion, out of the whoops.

Remi Thirion, out of the whoops.

DUST! Five seasons in one day.

DUST! Five seasons in one day.

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The man, the legend, the Gwin. He just looks completely at ease.

The man, the legend, the Gwin. He just looks completely at ease.

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Atherton. The defending Cairns champ. Can he do it again? Yes. But Gwin, Loic, Brosnan and Co will make it very hard.

Atherton. The defending Cairns champ. Can he do it again? Yes. But Gwin, Loic, Brosnan and Co will make it very hard.

Luca Shaw

Luca Shaw

Brook Macdonald. Attack!

Brook Macdonald. Attack!

Mick Hannah. This is where he crashed in 2014. Keep the rubber down, Micko!

Mick Hannah. This is where he crashed in 2014. Keep the rubber down, Micko!

Neethling. That didn't work!

Neethling. That didn’t work!

Nickolas Nestoroff.

Nickolas Nestoroff.

Blenkinsop. Ten dabs and laughing his way past Alien Tree.

Blenkinsop. Ten dabs and laughing his way past Alien Tree.

Gwin, uncharacteristically squirmy.

Gwin, uncharacteristically squirmy.

Troy, composed.

Troy, composed.

Sam Hill was moving well from run one.

Sam Hill was moving well from run one.

Bruni.

Bruni.

Devinci's Mark Wallace. Splat.

Devinci’s Mark Wallace. Splat.

Stevie Smith. We're itching to see him on the podium.

Stevie Smith. We’re itching to see him on the podium.

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I see red, lots of red. Hopefully everyone's nerves are settled tomorrow and we see less of this.

I see red, lots of red. Hopefully everyone’s nerves are settled tomorrow and we see less of this.

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Shark Attack Jack (Moir).

Shark Attack Jack (Moir).

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Greasy!

Greasy!

Spiky!

Spiky!

Frondy!

Frondy!

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MC! Sean McCarroll, the fastest qualifier at the 1996 Worlds here in Cairns. Can he do it again? No. He can't, but how cool is it that he's here and shredding!

MC! Sean McCarroll, the fastest qualifier at the 1996 Worlds here in Cairns. Can he do it again? No. He can’t, but how cool is it that he’s here and shredding!

Aiden Varley was second here in juniors in 2014.

Joel Willis grinding some carbon.

Joel Willis grinding some carbon.

GO TRACEY!

GO TRACEY!

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Manon Carpenter. Tough and committed, like a female Chunk Norris, but on a bike. And English.

Manon Carpenter. Tough and committed, like a female Chunk Norris, but on a bike. And English.

Jack Moir, back from yet another collarbone surgery. Good luck, mate!

Jack Moir, back from yet another collarbone surgery. Good luck, mate! 

 

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