Worlds In the Tropics: Cairns World Cup and World Champs Cross Country Course Preview

Words by Mick Ross | Images by Tim Bardsley-Smith, Mick Ross

“The UCI, and mountain bikers of Australia have an emotional attachment to Cairns, it was a race destination in the nineties, and its soon to become that again”, says Glen Jacobs of World Trail who are the minds and shovels behind the construction of the upcoming World Cup and World Championship courses.

Glen Jacobs and one of his most dedicated machine operators - Ryan de la Rue.

Glen Jacobs and one of his most dedicated trail building machine operators – Ryan De La Rue explain the fine details behind the unique course construction.

At around 90% completion, and currently unrideable, media from around Australia and New Zealand scored an exclusive first peek behind the barriers at what the team have been up to in the last few months in the lead up to April 2014’s World Cup event.

The team needs little introduction, best known for creating the World Champs course in Stromlo Forest Park, Atherton Tablelands, Mount Buller, Falls Creek, Smithfield Mountain Bike Park and a dozen or so more of our sweetest and fun trails around the country. But what makes Glen and his talented team’s return to Cairns more special, is that he was contracted by the UCI back in 1996 to construct the wildly unique and seriously challenging Cairns Worlds course that put Australian mountain bike racing on the international calendar for the first time. It’s on again but this time with over 20 years of experience on many levels behind him and his team. It’s going to be bloody awesome.

The day the barriers are lifted, the public will be free to test out this incredible course, any day of the week.

The day the barriers are lifted, the public will be free to test out this incredible course, any day of the week. With up to seven metres of rain each year, the builders are faced with a real challenge to make a course that doesn’t slide down the hill in the wet season.

“Mountain biking is a part of the culture up here, a lot of places have surf, or snow, while Tropical North Queensland has mountain biking” says Glen, with a strong passion for his home town. “You can’t play squash without a squash court, so once you build trails, people start riding them, and now Cairns is fast becoming a top destination as a result of such incredible trails”.

The World Cup Cross Country Course

This isn’t just any trail to go mountain biking on, building a World Cup course comes attached with many rules, regulations, guidelines and criteria to meet set by the UCI (international cycling body).

This sections dubbed 'Crocslide' is so steep, we had to slide down on our arses. An off camber rock will force you to commit to way more speed than we'd wish for.

This sections dubbed ‘Crocslide’ is so steep we had to slide down on our arses. An off camber rock will force you to commit to way more speed than we’d ever wish for.

Looking back up Crocslide. Yes, it's very intimidating.

Looking back up Crocslide. Yes, it’s very intimidating, like a crocodile perhaps.

Tim Sheedy, Cycling Australia’s newly appointed Technical Director of Mountain Biking was on hand to highlight what they have had to work with. “The criteria is predominantly centred around two fronts; what is best for television – the lap and race duration has a lot to do with that, generally 1 hour 35 minutes and, seven laps if possible. The other is safety, the UCI are overwhelmingly focussed on safety.” says Tim.

Tim Sheedy the new guy at Cycling Australia will make many trips to Cairns over the next while to deliver information to the club, event organisers and trail builders from the UCI's perspective. We like Tim, he has his head around what will make a great event for everyone.

Tim Sheedy the new guy at Cycling Australia will make many trips to Cairns over the next while to deliver information to the Cairns club, event organisers and trail builders from the UCI’s perspective. We like Tim, he has his head around what will make a great event for everyone.

Riders catch glimpses of the bright green and blue waters north of Cairns before hurtling back into the dens jungle for more hectic terrain.

Riders catch glimpses of the refreshing bright green and blue waters north of Cairns before hurtling back into the dense and hostile jungle for more hectic terrain.

Glen and Tim mention what they call ‘VEMASS’, which is an acronym born from the trail side for something that previously had no name – Visually Enhanced Media and Spectator System.

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Joining the dots between interesting terrain features both spectating and rider challenge, the team from World Trail have done a supreme job building the course.

Jump the log, or wall ride?

Jump the log, or wall ride around it? That’s not an old fallen tree, it’s been left on purpose to mess with your wheels and skin.

A VEMASS is a section of the race track that anybody can spectate from and get a taste of the action. A spectator point that brings good vibe and exciting atmosphere, engaging racing for the competitors too, and camera vantage points into a convenient location. Who remembers the Sydney 2000 Olympics? Especially ‘The Cauldron’ section down rocky steps, and up around the other side. It was easy to walk to, and spectators would love the action and feel the noise whether they were mountain bikers themselves or not. It’s going to be a cracker race to watch, from either one meter away, or streamed online in Venezuela.

A VEMASS point, within view of the start finish straight, XC feed zone and expo area.

A VEMASS point under construction within view of the start/finish straight, XC feed zone and big expo area. Check out the moguls and rollers, born out of Glen’s long experience of building four cross tracks on the 90’s World Cup circuit.

We love the fact that the cross country and downhill courses follow much the same route through the tropical jungle as it did in 1996. And for this particular Flow frother, the 1996 Worlds was such a big deal, as an impressionable 14 year old with a worn out VHS recording of the highlights from the race taped from SBS on a Sunday afternoon. We won’t be the only ones reminiscing like mad come April, as a trip to Cairns back in 1996 would have been at the start of many current racer or industry folk careers. It’ll be especially great for internationals to go back to the jungle again.

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Smithfield will return to the international stage once again, but local and visiting riders will also benefit out of all this. With more trails, based around a healthy existing network. Isn’t Glen a smiley fella?

The nostalgia flowed strongly as we walked through sections of the track that were recognisable from all those years ago. Jacobs Ladder is still there but has undergone a serious facelift, making it tougher and with additional line choices galore.

Looking up Jacobs Ladder. check out the 'A line' on the left of the picture! Nailing that line will give you an advantage over a rider going around the long way, but the consequences are high, really high.

Looking up Jacobs Ladder. check out the ‘A line’ on the left of the picture! Nailing that line will give you an advantage over a rider going around the long way, but the consequences are high, really high.

Jacobs Ladder from above, steep switchback turns with inside lines to scare the crap out of you.

Jacobs Ladder from above, steep switchback turns with inside lines to scare the crap out of you.

Keep an eye out for above average sized reptiles crossing the track, and don't stop to pat them.

Keep an eye out for above average sized reptiles crossing the track, and don’t stop to pat them.

The track takes in a wide variety of natural and man-made features, the speeds will be super high overall, and will push the limits of the riders on each turn. We predict that a powerful and punchy rider with the ability to recover extra fast will do well here. The technical nature of the track is well above what we’ve seen in Australia before, not just in negotiating the terrain but line choice and passing tactics will come into play a lot when riders jostle for the top spots.

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If it rains during or before the race, the track will take on a whole new meaning of wild. With the thick jungle canopy locking in moisture to keep the roots and rocks so insanely slippery. Then there is the heat. Cairns is a long way up into the tropical north of Queensland where the air is hot, and thick with humidity. The best riders coming from Europe or America will take some serious acclimation to be able to handle it. Will locals have a big advantage perhaps?

And then if it is bone dry when racing begins, the ground turns into bull dust, making vision and breathing a challenge even further beyond the fluctuating amounts of traction that comes with such a dusty surface. Tropical conditions make for unpredictable weather conditions for the uninitiated, another factor that will give local riders more advantage.

We walked up the climb, which was so steep in sections we struggled to keep forward motion. The obstacles that will be needed to negotiate were both natural and man-made. But you get a sense that riders will suffer, but also be rewarded if the skills and strength levels are high.

We walked up the climb, which was so steep in sections that we struggled to keep forward motion. The obstacles that will be needed to negotiate were around a sweet balance of both natural and man-made features. We got a sense that riders will suffer, but also be rewarded if the skills and strength levels are high enough to make it through sections cleanly.

The weekend ending with April 27, 2014 will be the first official race to be run on this super unique and challenging course. With riders all over the world flying in to wage their bets in the jungle. We’ll be there, so should you.

We had to double check if we were on the downhill or cross country track at more than one point. This big step down jump will be nuts!

We had to double check if we were on the downhill or cross country track at more than one point during the walk. This big step down jump will be nuts! The cameras don’t do it justice right now, which makes us even more eager to see the action begin in April.

2015 will also have a World Cup round on the calendar in Cairns, and the big one in 2017 is the World Championships. It’s going to be huge!

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