The rains may have held off until after qualifying, but that didn't stop the track in Mont-Sainte-Anne from dishing out its usual levels of destruction. At a race that has become well known over the years for pushing the limits of bikes and bodies, it's not uncommon to see the odd rider here and there limping their bikes down with various parts hanging off (or missing). But this year it seems as if that number has risen much higher, and it's hard to find any section of track without some sort of carnage taking place on the other side of the tape. The combination of high speeds and a track that has eroded down to the bedrock in spots means any full speed run will be a bit of a gamble. A gamble you must take, and win, if you want to come out on top. Today's qualifying round would be the first real test of who could walk that fine line, who would cross it, and who would just get plain lucky when disaster looked imminent.
The junior men's race was the first to be affected by the brutal track as Finn Iles limped across the line with a front flat. This left the door open for Matt Walker to grab the fastest time of the day with Sylvain Cougoureux and Kaos Seagrave in tow. In the women's race it was series leader Myriam Nicole who would take top honors, with Tracey Hannah and Rachel Atherton rounding out the top three. For Tracey and Rachel it would be a step in the right direction after a week of near-constant mechanicals or crashes in training, with qualifying being the only clean run between the two of them. Hopefully their bad luck on the slopes of MSA is now over and there will a battle at the front tomorrow afternoon.
In the men's race we had a reverse of fortune as Aaron Gwin turned his mechanical issues in timed training the day prior into a blistering run and the the number one qualifying spot. Loic Bruni kept it consistent to land second and Greg Minnaar third just 1.8 seconds off the lead. After one of the biggest saves of the year in the last woods section, Danny Hart used up one of his nine lives to take 4th (the same can be said for Blenki in 8th), with Luca Shaw in 5th and Vergier in 6th.
What about the weather we have been talking about all week? Well, it moved in just after qualifying with thunderstorms and rain, and is expected to stay that way for most of the night. As for Saturday, things are looking a bit grim and all the riders must be a bit worried about what might happen if it really does come pouring down like we've seen a few times this season. If things do get messy, let's just hope it's the same for everyone and we have a level playing field for all.
Mont-Sainte-Anne... it's both a beauty and a beast, no bones about it.
Riders slowly took to the track in another early morning training session.
One last moment to relax for Finn Iles before bike and body get handed a beating in MSA.
It was all about that hero dirt in the woods today, but there's a pretty likely chance this will be turning to mud on race day.
Just 5 seconds back, Loris Verier sits 6th just behind his teammate Luca Shaw.
Sylvain Cougoureaux is a sure favourite for the podium, ripping to second place, but he's the best part of 10 seconds back on Walker and has far too many rivals chomping closely at his heels for comfort.
Fastest in just about every training run we have seen, Loic Bruni would finish the day just 1.5 seconds behind Aaron Gwin.
Aaron Gwin hasn't won here in MSA since 2012, but it turns out he might fancy another go on top of the box this season...
Nik Nestoroff hit the podium here last season in his first year as a junior. Less than 2 seconds off second place for qualies bodes well for finals.
Marine Cabirou has truly come into her own on her second season in the women's elite class. 5th for qualies and good chance of a podium.
Gaetan Vige putting the powerful charging nature of the Gambler to good use here in Quebec.
Rachel Atherton said her qualifier was her cleanest run of the week, and now has something to build on going into the finals.
Myriam Nicole wants to leave Mont-Sainte-Anne in her current leader's jersey... 1st place today will do I suppose.
Myriam Nicole took her number one plate to the top spot today and increased her lead in the overall over Tracey Hannah and Rachel Atherton.
Kade Edwards came 4th in junior men but is a long 10 seconds off the pace.
3rd in junior seeding for Sylvian Cougoureux.
Amaury Pierron worked his way up to 17th despite tripping the first split in 61st. A clean run on Saturday should see him in the top 10 and in contention for the podium.
Brook Maconald gets buck wild just above the lower woods.
Troy Brosnan at warp speed through the lower woods.
Small mistakes added up to 3 second deficit for Danny Hart in qualifying.
2nd place today, you can bet your bottom dollar Loic Bruni is going to deliver one of his all or nothing specials tomorrow.
First rule of Minnaar's gargantuan gap in the lower woods is don't talk about Minnaar's gargantuan gap in the lower woods... we've already said too much. 3rd for the GOAT.
Troy would finish the day in 7th, conceding valuable point for the overall to Minnaar.
Fairclough and Greenland meet and greet from the lift.
Charlie Hatton is ready to turn it up to 11 on the big day and keep making his mark on the elite field in his freshman year.
Amaury Pierron is always on pace and making team France look good. Another top 20 for the Lac Blanc pinner.
Speed and style lives! 16th for Dakotah Norton with one hell of a final section.
A strong result for USA privateer Dakotah Norton.
The Canadian DH boss, Kirk McDowall, pulling out a solid 25th here on home soil... or should we say home 'rock'.
Gwin kept his speed to himself during timed training, but today it was on display for all to see.
Tracey Hannah put all her troubles in training behind her to take 2nd on the day.
Second on the day for Tracey Hannah.
Sam Blenkinsop would go fastest through the speed trap before making the biggest save of the day in the lower woods en route to 8th. If Sam keeps it under control tomorrow he will be in the fight for the podium
Canada's Mark Wallace tucks through the fastest part of the track.
Max Hartenstern piloting the Cube 29er to a safe and sound 7th, but will be looking for much more on the big day.
Melanie Chappaz leaving the rest of the junior women's field in her dust this afternoon, 8 seconds up.
Greenland on the attack at all times on the MSA bedrock. Today he made some big mistakes and still snuck into the top 20.
Italy's fastest female, Farina, dropping into the Stevie Smith rock drop.
6th and ten seconds back for Emilie Siegenthaler.
Tahnee Seagrave was a bit off the pace of her rivals today and would finish 4.7 seconds back in 4th.
Greg Minnaar is right where he needs to be to keep his overall lead safe and secure.
Phil Atwill through the trees and over the roots on the final technical section of track.
Laurie Greenland drifts it through one of the high speed corners below the speed trap.
Luca Shaw got his first elite podium here last year, and is on pace for another this weekend. 5th in qualifying and on the hunt.
11th for Brendan Fairclough.
Faustin Figaret managed his personal best qualifier; 10th is never to be sniffed at.
A big crash in training and a flat in qualifying made for a frustrating day for Finn Iles.
Loris Vergier gives the obligatory finish line interviews after qualifying.
Nicole clearly speaks the language here in Quebec in more ways than one... Can she pop another nail in the coffins of her rivals when the beeps start tomorrow?
Loic and his crew compare splits to see where he may have conceded time to Gwin.
MSA = wheel destruction = wheel building = hard labour and headaches for the mechanics.
Post-qualy office session chez Canyon.
Danny Hart happy with 4th despite a few mistakes on his run.
Brosnan hasn't found it easy adapting to the violent course, but sits in 7th with only 5 seconds to find so far for the big show.
The fastest bike in Mont-Sainte-Anne today