• Australia's Tracey Hannah held the lead until the final three riders came down (Rob Jones)Source: Rob Jones
In less then 24 hours the Mountain Bike World Cup competition will begin in Cairns, Australia, for Round 2 of the Downhill and the opening round of the Cross-country.
By
Robert Jones

22 Apr 2016 - 4:01 PM  UPDATED 22 Apr 2016 - 4:03 PM

LIVE: UCI MTB World Cup - Cairns
The UCI MTB World Cup XCO will be live streamed Sunday 24 April here on Cycling Central from 11:00am to 4:00pm AEST and broadcast on SBS2.

Taking place in Smithfield Park north of Cairns, riders will face heat and humidity in this tropical rain forest.

Cairns has a long history in mountain biking, stretching back to the 1996 world championships. The current cross-country course actually incorporates some sections of the world championship circuit. This year's event will be a final test event for organizers before they host the world championships next year (2017), and then the Commonwealth Games (for cross-country) the year after.

Two years ago, riders faced torrential rain. The forecast for this weekend is more favourable, but brief, heavy showers have been sweeping through every day, making rocks treacherous and the surface of hard packed trail slick.

Downhill

The 1.9 kilometre downhill run is unchanged from two years ago.

Sitting above coconut fringed beaches and coral islands of the Great Barrier reef, the course is pure rainforest racing at its best. Riders depart high in the tropical mist and twist down through ancient rock outcrops on volcanic clay. Rachel Atherton (GBr) and brother Gee Atherton (GBr) were the winners in 2014.

Riders face a series of switchbacks out the start gate before hitting the Rock Garden, and then moving into a long high speed section before dropping back into the rainforest. A series of gap jumps at the bottom before the riders burst out of the forest into the finish bowl. Riders drop more then 300 metres over the 1.9 kilometre run.

In the women's field, eight of the top-10 are on the start list, led by world champion Rachel Atherton (Trek Factory Racing).

Atherton is the defending World Cup champion, the winner of Round 1 in Lourdes, France so she will be hard to beat. Atherton led a sweep of the top-3 spots for women in Lourdes, with local Australian favourite Tracey Hannah (Polygon UR) the first non-Brit in the rankings, in fourth.

"The first rock garden that's pretty challenging, it's gnarly in the dry or the rain; it's hard to find a nice line through it so you just have to smash through it and hope for the best," Atherton said

"There are some big jumps that look really fun then the whole lower section is so precise you got to be nailing the corners and be so precise through all the roots and stuff."

In the men's downhill, Aaron Gwin (The YT Mob) began his defense of the World Cup title with a win in Lourdes, but only after world champion Loic Bruni (Specialized Gravity) crashed almost within sight of the finish line while holding a commanding lead.

Canada's Steve Smith (Devinci Global Racing) showed that he is back from injury with a strong second place in Lourdes, while Australian champion Troy Brosnan (Specialized Gravity) sits third in the standings. 

Cross-Country

The 4.3 kilometre circuit is slightly shorter than the one used in 2014, and consists of two loops.

After a start loop of approximately one kilometre, riders immediately head into technical track after the first Tech Zone. A short, sharp climb and descent drops the riders into a 4-Cross park, with dual banked turns and jumps.

From here they ride a fast double track section through the forest before beginning the first part of the main climb, named Whiskers D'Flaherty. The climb zig-zags up through the rain forest; mostly singletrack but with numerous passing sections. At the top of this first section they hit a large spectator zone before finishing off the second section of the climb.

It is a long and fast descent from here, beginning with a steep rock face called the Crocslide. Going back through the spectator zone, they then hit the zig-zag Jacob's Ladder drop - which was part of the climb in 1996. They continue to descend very fast on double track, back to the Tech Zone, before beginning the second short and flat loop to finish the lap.

The women's podium is wide open, with a number of top riders electing to skip Cairns.

Missing will be defending World Cup champion Jolanda Neff (Stockli Pro), Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Merida Multivan), Maja Wloszczowska ( Kross Racing Team) and Pauline Ferrand Prevot ( RaboLiv).

However, those who are here include the Canadian duo of Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing), Annika Langvad (Specialized Racing), Eva Lechner (Luna) and Australia's national champion, Rebecca Henderson (Trek Factory Racing).

On the men's side, the field is much deeper, with all the top-ranked riders in attendance, led by perennial rivals Julien Absalon (BMC) and world champion Nino Schurter (Scott-Odlo) - the long high speed descent should be particularly to his liking.

Others to watch include Manuel Fumic (Cannondale), defending Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing) and Australia's Dan McConnell (Trek Factory Racing).