Lourdes- surprises? Not really.
For all the hulaboo that surrounds world cup racing, those with their fingers on the pulse would have found little surprise in the events of Lourdes world cup.
Most of the noise, a lot of it white noise at that, was based around the seemingly shocking news that there were three 29″ wheeled bikes racing a World Cup DH. Please.
The rate of technological change in DH over the last 3-4 seasons has been phenomenal. Josh Bryceland was arguably the last rider to win a world cup on 26″ and that was a little while ago now. When 27.5 came out, there was a mad dash to change things – as if it had taken people by surprise. This means one of two things – either the DH scene is resting on its laurels (which it isn’t) and gets caught napping by a few or all the hype is, well, twaddle.
What can happen, will happen when it comes to progress. Call it murphy’s law if you will.
29″ers aren’t new, and they’re here to stay. Heck, there’s even one racing the Scottish DH series. Get over it.
Now that’s over with lets talk about the humans who actually race the bikes. For it is them who actually pilot these unwieldy beasts down the mountains with some ridiculous levels of skill .
Regarding Atherton, R – she is so strong mentally and her experience and aura plays a large part in keeping her ahead of the game . Sure, she trains phenomenally hard, rides at a fair old lick and has an iron will to win.
Yet while her winning streak is no doubt piling pressure on her, it must undoubtedly have an effect on her peers. Furthermore, one loss won’t shift that balance of power away from atherton either as any challenger will need to back that up with more wins in close succession to cement the fact it wasn’t just an anomaly in athertons winning run.
However, Seagrave has the speed, the skill and as time goes on, the experience to understand where she is claiming those seconds in qualifying and then put it into finals action. I’ve a feeling that at some point this year it’ll come for her, and she has years ahead of her. Success in DH is best compared to a time served apprenticeship – it takes a long time to consistently crack this sport.
Hannah, Carpenter and Nicole aren’t exactly lagging behind either, but for now, and with a physical Fort William up next, it is hard to see past Atherton.
Fayolle eh? A surprise package? Think again. In fact, the French have made a habit of this at Lourdes now.
Fuastin Figaret and Rudy Caribou claimed top tens in 2015, Amaury Pierron made the podium last year. These guys were all but unknown to anyone bar the dedicated fan of DH.
In 2016, Fayolle qualified 11th, after grabbing a top in Val di Sole in 2015 and being the privateer of the year. He then took a 4th in Andorra in 2016. At split 3 in qualifying he was only 3 down on Vergier before he punctured.
So, really, this was not a surprise.
Sure sure, the rain was a bastard of the worst kind. It doesn’t create mud when landing on dust, it creates ice and even the downhiller with little experience will appreciate just how slippy a track of this nature becomes when faced this situation.
Hart, in my mind the best bike handler on the DH circuit, showed us how hard this was when he chose not to attack and save himself for battles further down the line. Make no mistake, winning a series is based on knowing when to pick your fights and how to stay the course when potential of serious injury becomes a reality. This was damage limitation at its best.
Anyway, Fayolle. Looking at his results it seems that the steeper tracks certainly suit this man from the south of France. He’ll be wearing the leaders jersey coming into Fort William – not a track that he has ever really set alight but what will confidence do to his chances? He isn’t a rider that has followed the formula that is becoming more common – junior wc series then onto the senior circuit. Nope, Fayolle has done it the old school way via the school of hard knocks.
In a race scene that is dominated by 7-8 big guns, this could shape an entire year and who knows what riders around the periphery will take from thus result? In a sport where confidence and swagger can dictate performances Fayolle might have just landed a blow that only a few saw coming, yet it was only thinly veiled.
Are there instances of this win taking Alex to the next level? The answer is yes.
Marc Beaumont may have benefitted from the rain when he won in Vigo in 2007 but he certainly didn’t when he followed it up with a 2010 victory in Val di Sole. However, there is as ever a flip side. Victories for Rich Houseman didn’t seem to take him to the next level, (in fact it actually got him a ban for weed in his blood as he got dope tested due to his victory) and we’ve seen riders such as Brook macdonald, Blenki and Thirion unable to claim repeat victories.
To sum up, I don’t really know what this means for the series but Fayolle may well be there or there about’s come September and for me, all the bullshit about wheels pails into insignificance when compared to the rise of a young frenchman on a mission.
Lets not forget that behind the bike and technology there are two arms, two legs and brains capable of doing outstanding performances. While this win won’t change DH, or the big guns, it may have just accelerated the progress of more than a few riders capable of upsetting the apple cart.
Images: Red Bull Content Pool.