Not since Canberra in 2008 has Australia hosted a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, but April 25-27, more than 400 of the best Olympic (XCO), Downhill (DHI) and Eliminator (XCE) riders in the sport of mountain biking will descend on Cairns, who hosted the MTB World Championships in the very same forest in 1996.
Positioned as the ‘Rumble in the Rainforest’, the event is the second of nine rounds of the World Cup series and will be held over three days in the World Heritage-listed Smithfield Rainforest, located just 15km north of Cairns.
“The downhill course is remarkably the same,” said Tim Sheedy, Cycling Australia’s Technical Director for Mountain Biking of the ‘Glens Fall’ gravity run named after renown trail builder Glen Jacobs of World Trail. “A lot of the old features are still intact. What has changed in the past 20 years are the trail building techniques and Glen Jacobs is the first to admit he is a very different trail builder these days than when he built the course in 1996.”
According to Sheedy, the downhill course is faster as a result of those trail building techniques and higher quality.
One significant change is with the XCO course that has been shortened from 10km in 1996, to 5km per lap.
“In 1996, riders would take 2.5 hours to finish, while this year they are expected to complete the course in 1.5 hours. While the XCO course (and sport!) is incredibly different, it will still feature Cadel’s [Evans] section and Jacob’s Ladder.”
The iconic Jacob’s Ladder remains
In addition to the 2014 UCI World Cup racing over three disciplines, race two and four of the Real Insurance XCM (Marathon) Series will take place in Mt Joyce for the Australian XCM Championships on Sunday, April 6 and the scenic Atherton Tablelands – 100km south west of Cairns – on Friday, April 25 (ANZAC Day). The Tablelands Classic, offering both a 50 and 100km option – will attract more than 200 riders with many remaining and expected to join an estimated 25,000 local, national and international spectators during the World Cup weekend festivities.
Many of the sport’s biggest names are expected to challenge for World Cup hardware, including a rumour of last year’s XCO world champion Nino Schurter (SUI) who will join the Australian WorldTour road race team Orica-GreenEdge later this season as a guest rider. The former Swiss national champion is a three-time rainbow jersey winner (2009, 2012-2013) and an Olympic silver and bronze medallist.
This event will also see the ever popular 39-year-old Steve Peat (GBR) return to Cairns, who raced the last UCI event held in Cairns 18 years ago, when Nico Vouilloz (FRA) took the downhill title ahead of the flamboyant Shaun Palmer.
For local flavour, all eyes will be on the Cairns’ sibling duo of Mick and Tracey Hannah in the steep, high-speed time-based downhill event as they face off with another brother-sister combo with the UK’s Gee and Rachel Atherton. However, don’t discount the likes of other locals Sam Hill, Troy Brosnan and Canadian Steve Smith as likely contenders.
The 2013 World Cup XCO series second place finisher Dan McConnell (AUS) and reigning U23 World Cup series champion – and McConnell’s partner – Bec Henderson from Canberra will be ones to watch in the multi-lap 30-40km XCO across mixed terrain. While current XCE World Champion Paul van der Ploeg (AUS) plans to be a major threat over the 800m course which pits four riders per heat, with the fastest two riders advancing to the next round and the slowest two eliminated.
“Some places are known for the surf and some places for their snow, Cairns is known for its mountain biking,” said Sheedy quoting Jacobs. “And with the Ride Cairns program developed by Tourism Tropical North Queensland, which is heavily investing in the sport, combined with the World Cup will invigorate the sport the same way it invigorated the sport in 1996.”
For a complete schedule of the weekend’s events, click here.
Want to take a peak at the updated XCO track or just see what downhill racing was like in 1996? See below.