The sun has set on an amazing weekend here in Cairns, with the cross-country races keeping the big crowds entertained with plenty of drama and excitement all over the hill. Riders were thankful for a dry track, but the humidity was taking its toll along with the super technical course, littered with steep rock gardens, tough climbs and fast open sections offering little chance to recover.
The U23 women kicked things off early, with Germany's Helen Grobert getting up over Jenny Risveds and Jovana Crnogorac. Kiwis Amber Johnston and Samantha Hope finished 8th and 11th respectively. In the mens U23 race, NZ National champion Sam Gaze put in a strong ride, sitting close to the leaders early on before fading to a solid 6th. Victor Koretsky took the top step ahead of Jordan Sarrou and Michiel Van Der Heijden. Brett Stokman and Matthew waghorn finished two laps down in 22nd and 23rd.
Then it was the turn of the Elite women, and the pace was on early with Round 1 winner Jolanda Neff going out hard on the first two laps, before mechanicals saw her pushed back in the pecking order. Italian Champion Eva Lechner took control midway through, and stretched her lead out over the closing laps. German legend Sabine Spitz was rolling back the years and got up to 2nd, before being hauled in by Emily Batty and former World Champion Irina Kalentieva. Current World Champ Julie Bresset had a terrible run of luck with a couple of nasty crashes, including a huge over the bars in front of the baying Jacob's Ladder crowd, forcing her to retire. Of the Kiwis, Kate Fluker was best in 17th, Samara Sheppard started strongly but ended up 20th, and Katie O'Neill finished in 25th place.
Under a hot afternoon sun the Elite men took off at a scorching rate, with some pile-ups on the start straight and the first climb. Thomas Litscher put a big gap into the field at the top of the course, and held it until lap 2 when a flat put him back several places. Julien Absalon was having his own troubles, and hit the pits with a flat, forcing him back to 8th to chase leader Matthias Fluckiger for a couple of laps. Maxime Marotte was riding consistently in the top 5, and Aussie hero Dan McConnell was right in the thick of it, sending the locals into raptures. Absalon clawed his way back to Fluckiger, and it looked for a while that it might come down to a sprint, before the classy Frenchman pulled away to win fairly comfortably. Marrotte held on for 3rd, with McConnell and Juan Antonio Hermida dueling all the way to the line, the Aussie just edging the Spaniard for 4th. Carl Jones finished in 31st, and Dirk Peters came home in 39th.
The crowds up on the hill were able to move between a couple of vantage points to see the race come past three times each lap, with the technical sections of Jacob's Ladder and the Crocslide packed to the rafters. There was plenty of action on both descents, with the XC boys and girls showing plenty of bike handling skills as they nailed the big rocks at speeds that would make some downhillers envious.
So all up a great weekend of racing in Cairns, with tough and challenging courses being praised highly by riders and spectators alike. With a round of the World Cup to be held here in 2016, and the World Champs in 2017, things can only get better after such a successful event. Start planning now!
Images by Stefan Haworth