As reported here last week, Spoke got to check out the cross-country and downhill courses for the World Cup to be held at Cairns in April 2014. Both courses follow those used for the 1996 World Championships, but have been undergoing a tonne of work to bring them up to the level of modern day courses. That means more technical sections, alternate lines, big drops and jumps and rock gardens. And that's just for the XC! Here's a closer look at what the world's best cross-country racers can expect when they line up in the tropical heat of North Queensland.
The start/finish and expo area makes use of the VEMASS concept. What's a VEMASS? Visually Enhanced Media and Spectator System. A place where the public and media can gather and take in the racing, have a drink and some food, check out the sponsors' stalls and chill out while the racers suffer. All those moguls are designed to either increase the riders' speed or stall them altogether, depending on how smart they are with line choice and how strong they are. The main climb starts here and winds its way to the top of the course a relentless couple of kilometres later.
From the Start/Finish mogul section, riders will climb this innocuous looking fireroad for 100 metres or so, but it's steeper than it looks and when attacked hard will take the sting out of the legs, with much more to come.
Right after the sharp pinch, the course turns down briefly, but there's no respite as the riders will have to either gas it to clear this gap, or take the easy line and lose a bit of momentum and time. World Trail's Ryan De La Rue (R) points to where the booster will be, while I point to where the medics would be treating me if I attempted the gap.
The gap from the top, VUNG-line on the left. The UCI requires each technical feature to have an alternate line that the least skilled riders can negotiate safely. The group of journos in attendance decreed that an Under 19 female rider from Venezuela may be a beneficiary of said alternatives, so the term VUNG-line was coined (Venezuelan Under Nineteen Girl Line). Most of us also agreed we'd be hitting pretty much all the VUNG-lines.
Clear the gap, hit the berm at speed, then grunt it up this little pinch. If it rains the clay based track will be like riding on soap. Even if it doesn't rain, the race is at the end of the wet season so may still be retaining some water.
Geoff Kabush hinted on our Instagram feed that he'd like to see some fallen trees to make the course even harder. Don't know if he was being facetious or not, but here you go, Geoff...
"Oh, they'll be filling that hole in, surely", we thought when we came across this. Nope. After a steep, tight switchback which will be tough enough, riders will have to put in six or so hard pedal strokes to get enough speed to clear this... or go the long way around.
Up and up and up. Every time we'd get around a corner and think the top was reached, another pinch, or roller, or tech feature would appear.
There's about a 700mm gap between the rock and the tree there. If the XC guys are running wide bars then they'll have to shimmy through this section and watch the drop over the side of the track just around the corner.
The way back down isn't a place to rest, in fact the concentration levels will be through the roof when the top of the course is reached. Rocks everywhere, this is the calm before the storm...
The storm... the old Crocslide from the 96 course makes a return, but it seems like it was covered in more dirt back then (erosion at work?) I think I remember Tomac eating it here in the World Cup in 95, when it was possibly called the Chute or something... hell, it was a long time ago, okay?
View looking back up the Crocslide... no apparent VUNG-Line here, in fact it'll put the wind up the top riders as a bit of a launch is needed to clear the ledge. Get it wrong and the consequences will be dire, but spectacular.
After the Crocslide and a few fast berms, the next VEMASS section is reached at the top of Jacob's Ladder. This part of the jungle will be alive with people on race day.
Think you could ride down that? On a hardtail? With your seat up your jacksy? In Lycra? Then you're gonna make up a bit of time with this direct line cutting out the switchback.
Doesn't look so bad, does it? Yeah it does. Will the dropper post finally be accepted by the XC set? Respect to anyone who rides this without one...
That guy's nailing it! No, he's just trackstanding. No riding allowed yet on course, the track is still getting the World Trail team's love, and Jacob's Ladder has some bits needing the final touches to ready it for action.
After the Ladder it's a fast, bermed rollercoaster ride back towards the expo area, before detouring again into the rainforest for some sweet twisty trails that we got to ride after our walk of the track. We had fun, but the racers will probably be too spent to appreciate the subtleties of the trails after the first few laps. And there's plenty of things to chase, sting or eat you out on the course too.
The track designers have laid out a very tough course that will really test the best of the XC guns. The heat and humidity could mean that someone like Aussie Dan McConnell could have a home advantage over the Euros. Whoever wins will have to be a complete package rider, with not just great endurance but supreme strength and technical skills to conquer the course first, then the other riders. We can't wait to see how it plays out next April 26.
Check out ridecairns.com for more info.
*Photography by Tim Bardsley-Smith
*Thanks to Tourism Tropical North Queensland