After three days of dusty practice on an epic course - things got a bit loosey goosey in seeding at the Downhill National Championships today.
Photos: Nick Waygood
Downhill racing at a World or National Championship is a little slow to get going. Like, the first time on course is on foot FFS! It's hard to get a slower start than that. But that's because racing Downhill is unlike racing Enduro. It has more in common with racing cross-country, where course practice is an exercise of discipline. Riders need to find their lines, practice them, study them (thanks GoPro et al) and monitor changes.
Racing Downhill successfully is about building the speed, and boy does it build. If you've stood track side at any major downhill race and seen the raw speed that a top downhiller has - it's hard to believe. It's a speed that you feel, with traction you can't see.
Lines are kept secret, and it's not uncommon for race runs to take on a line that may not even be there in practice. With the top of the Downhill course at Maydena Bike Park starting on an established flow trail, it starts to get spicy part way down. And that's where things will be changing.
"The middle part of the course is blowing apart a bit, and rutting up," said Kye Hore when we spoke yesterday. "So the lines are forever changing. It means you have to keep up with what the course is doing while doing practice."
Bring on a few millimetres of rain today and Downhill seeding - and the whole shebang is likely to look different again.
The bottom of the course had the shifting clay much like the cross country racers battled today, and that's likely to keep changing until racing starts tomorrow afternoon. There might be some more rain overnight, but no one will be on the course, and the sun should be peeping out in the morning - so it might get drier. In fact, most people reckon it should be pretty good.
With no rain for a lot of the men's XCO race today, the course did dry up on the lower sections - the forest was pretty good the whole time. So there's every chance a lot of the course will be running fast. Still, there's a chance that a later run down the hill might be a drier one - albeit a little more chopped up in places.
But - who can win?
For the Elite men, most people are saying Troy Brosnan. He's our top ranked downhiller, defending champion, a consummate professional, and he's been the pick for a number of riders spoken to. Troy was 5th in seeding, which doesn't mean a whole lot based on today's conditions.
What about Dean Lucas? He was super hungry to race in 2020, and like just about everyone, didn't have the opportunity. That hunger hasn't been satiated. Dean was 8th in seeding.
Connor Fearon may have been doing pretty well in Enduro for the past couple of years (like, being National Champion) but he's no stranger to the podium for the Downhill National Title - he was 4th in seeding, which means he's pretty close to the pace.
Dan Booker was the fastest in seeding today, over a second faster than Jordan Prochyra (Josh Button was 3rd). Fastest in seeding isn't fastest in the final - but it often is. Will Troy, Connor or Dean bring something else out? What about Luke Meier-Smith? Or Prochyra or Button? Tomorrow will reveal all!
For Elite women, it's not unlike Elite Men - lots of riders are backing the defending champion - Sian A'hern. She's done the work, is playing it smart, was seeded first and is amped to be here racing. It's a winning combo. She'll be the last woman down the hill and that could be the winning time.
Tegan Molloy has all the big mountain and race experience to give the title a run - but on paper Sian seems to be the safer bet. Nothing is set in stone for race day!
Shelley Flood was second in seeding, but again - it was sloppy and there's probably not a lot to read into it for tomorrow.
The whole Elite women's seeding times are here.
Juniors are another kettle of fish. Our insider says Remy Meier-Smith (fastest in seeding) is a shoe in for the win. Reality says a race isn't won until it's over - but he was fastest in seeding.
Junior women is pretty open with Cassie Voysey moving to Elite this year. Interestingly, top seeded Elise Empey was the second fastest woman on course today.
Stay tuned for tomorrow - we'll have a full gallery and wrap up once we see what everyone has when the hit the course at full speed for the Downhill Finals.