Ever since I got into mountainbiking almost 20 years ago (fuck, I’m getting old) I wanted to go and see a downhill world cup race live and in real life. It never worked out with the dates. Someones wedding or other events always got in the way. So I ended up watching the replay during lunch at work. Now on our trip through Canada, with a bit of tweaking of our original route, it all came together.
We arrived in the area of Mont Sainte Anne a couple of days early and hired bikes to sample some of the local trails ourselves. The Mont Sainte Anne resort offers more than 100 km of trails, and we had a tough but fun day out on the trails. But let’s talk about the race.
Friday – Qualification Runs
We used the qualification runs to walk up most of the course to get an idea of all the different sections and to get some shots of the riders going down the mountain. It was an incredibly hot day and walking up the course was hard work. The track looks a fair bit gnarlier in real life than it does on TV. Pictures and TV also don’t convey how steep some of the sections really are.
I was particularly impressed by the Steve Smith memorial drop. Not the easiest run in, a steep drop over a rock covered in dust, a small jump into a pretty rocky run out and then a sharp banked turn that made for some exciting watching as some of the riders got pretty close to the edge, and one rider went over.
After qualis we wandered around the expo and team areas before getting ready for the evening. There was some pretty cool live music at no extra cost on in the party tent on all 3 evenings of the UCI MTB world cup weekend. The only downside was that they exclusively sold the drink sponsor’s beer, and Budweiser is probably some of the world’s worst beer.
Saturday – Race Day
Because walking all over the mountain trying to get photos doesn’t really allow you to follow the race at all we decided to spend most of the day near the finish line. I walked up to the first few rocky sections from the bottom to get some shots of the ladies coming down. The weather wasn’t as great as it had been the last few days and it turns out taking decent photos of fast moving subjects in darker conditions in a forest is not that easy. I have a lot more respect for the pro photographers along the course now. Unfortunately I missed what was really going on in the ladies race, but Janneke had a great time cheering them on further down the hill.
For the men’s final we got ourselves a spot on the barrier right after the finish line with a good view of the big screen showing the race. This way we were able to cheer the riders across the line and follow the race.
The atmosphere was fantastic despite the rain and you could hear the riders come down the mountain through the cheers that followed them through the forest.
The weather hadn’t been as good as the previous days and the track was a bit wet, but nothing too bad for the first half of the men’s race. Then, the heavens opened. For a while, none of the riders coming down the course came anywhere near the time of Dean Lucas, who was sat in the hot seat.
The first rider who really showed that decent times were still possible was Graeme Mudd. Jack Moir later stepped it up a notch and we knew we were in for a very exciting finish to the race with the top riders chasing down the time of Dean Lucas.
Everyone in the finish area, where the big screen showed the split times of the riders, got really excited whenever one of the riders got close to the hot seat time and shouted and cheered extra loud when they came into view. Everyone wanted to see a winner emerge from the rain. This is the awesome thing about downhill mountainbiking. Sure, people have their favourite riders and maybe cheer a bit harder when there’s a rider from their home country, but at the end of the day what people want to see is outstanding performances.
The weather got worse and worse. Then, Troy Brosnan got dangerously close to Dean’s time. We didn’t think it was possible, but the rain picked up even more. The big screen showed the water running down the course and it looked pretty windy at the top too. The announcer briefly switched to English from the dominating French to announce Danny Hart, the rain and mud specialist, coming down the mountain. Danny put on an awesome show and ended up in 3rd place (which later on the podium he looked rather disappointed with).
So far, a few riders got very close, but none were able to kick Dean off the hot seat. But there was one man left on top of the mountain. Aaron Gwin. The Gwinner. He put down an incredible run and made up time in almost every section. The crowds went crazy when he came into view and shouted him across the line. What a time. More than a second faster than Dean. An elated Gwin went round high fiving fans until he was ushered off by some manager guy for the obligatory post race interview.
We were left soaking and with sore throats from all the cheering, but had an amazing time.
For some outstanding photos by the pros, check out pinkbike’s photo epics of the qualifications and the finals. The full replay of the action is available on Red Bull TV (women’s race, men’s race). The full results can be found on the UCI website.