Welcome to KB’s World Cupservations, a column dedicated to the Downhill World Cup series where I will be using a mix of facts, rumours and my opinion to bring you something to read after each round. This is my first time writing anything like this so give me a couple of weeks before you blow me out on social media for how terrible it is, compliments always welcome however (@kieranbennett36).
This weekend will see the opening round held in Lourdes, France and like any opening round it is going to be exciting to see all of the new bikes (a few with overly large wheels I hear) and kits and of course scrutinise all of the practice footage to see who is looking fast.
For this weeks preview into the World Cup series I have plucked the top 10 overall from the 2016 season and a few Kiwi’s out and will be giving you a sentence or two of my thoughts about their 2017 season.
Two World Cup wins in 2016 and his fourth(!) World Cup downhill overall title makes him a hard man to bet against especially when he almost had the title wrapped up one round early. Gwin will have a target on his back and everyone will be waiting to see if he can repeat his 2016 Lourdes win.
If there is anyone that believes more in their ability to beat Aaron Gwin than this guy then I would like to meet them, the 2011 World Champion has a relatively quiet couple of years prior to 2016 and started the season off nicely with a 3rd in Lourdes and then a 3rd at Fort William before going on a major roll and winning the final three World Cup rounds and World Championships to end the year. Danny will be riding a wave of confidence going into Lourdes and will definitely be one to watch.
It still amazes me that Troy has only won one World Cup in his career, he has so much speed but I think he has struggled with getting his bike to work properly for him the last few years. His jump to Canyon was the biggest team rumour of the off season and with the guidance of two time World Cup downhill champion Fabian Barel I think it was a great move for Troy. Canyon want to win and will be giving him absolutely everything he needs to do so. I think we will see at least one win from Troy in 2017.
Brook had a tough 2016 season, he looked fast and fit but I think his bike was holding him back a little bit, they have made some changes and it sounds like he is more comfortable going into this season. Watch out for the Bull Dog to smash some rocks and hopefully make his way back onto the box.
It’s no secret I am a Greg Minnaar super fan so you will potentially never see a bad word written here about him, he is one of the friendliest guy’s on the circuit and is an all around bad ass on a bike. The lanky South African is going into his 17th World Cup season with three overall titles and three World Championships under his belt so you can never count him out.
Watch out some Greg trying out something new in Lourdes and I’m going to make a bold prediction of more than one win for him this season.
All the people want to see is the Eagle stay on his bike and back up one of his awesome qualifying rounds. Also, did you know he is a double EWS stage winner?
Yeah Connor! Connor has been on the rise for the last few seasons and to be honest I didn’t realise he finished this high in the overall standings last season. He is part of the new crop of Aussie pinners and it wont be long before he pulls off a World Cup win.
Super Bruni is my pick for the 2017 World Cup title, last year he was looking set to dominate the opening round at Lourdes leading the first three splits before crashing and finishing 8th. This then lead in to his first World Cup win at round two in Cairns before disaster struck and a crash while training at home forced him to miss part of the series and ruining his chance at the title.
A healthy Loic Bruni is a dangerous Loic Bruni.
A disappointing shoulder injury prior to Crankworx Rotorua put a bit of a damper on the start to Blenki’s season but he is back on the bike and ready to go for Lourdes. He seems to be a lot more comfortable on the new Norco DH bike so hopefully we will see some more scrubs, ET’s and Blenki on the podium this season.
Loris has been Loic’s sidekick since he came on to the scene and has shown some amazing speed, the talented Frenchy has moved on from Specialized and has joined the Santa Cruz Syndicate for 2017 with Greg Minnaar and Luca Shaw. Here is my bold prediction for 2017, you will see these three sweep the podium at a World Cup round, I told you it was bold.
Remi is always fast but never seems to quite be able to put in that little bit extra to consistently on the podium, he is with Commencal again for 2017 and who knows, maybe this will be the year he comes out swinging.
Luca has been quietly working his way up the ranks over the last couple of years and got his first World Cup podium at Mt Saint Anne last season which is no easy feat on that track, especially when he was basically a privateer just travelling with his mechanic. His spot on the Santa Cruz Syndicate is well deserved and with that support behind him I think we will be seeing him on the podium some more in the near future.
The Keswick Kestrel had an amazing 2016 season and will be returning to the series backed by Hope and Scott again, I heard he had some good offers on the table with other teams but was loyal the guys at Hope and liked the program he was able to set up for himself. Gas to flat is the most entertaining and also nerve wracking rider to watch at an race.
Matt missed most of last season due to injury so I am pretty excited to see what he can put together this season, his rise from a BMX grom racing some NZ downhill nationals to being an O.G #Vanzac to being on a factory World Cup DH team has been cool to watch and I hope this season goes well.
Keegan is racing every downhill World Cup and every EWS this season, that is a heavy schedule that hopefully doesn’t burn him out. He is the 2017 NZ national downhill series and National downhill champion so he will be looking to keep that momentum rolling into the World Cup season.
Words KB and photos Jay French & Spoke