Adrien Dailly is something of an enigma in modern mountain bike racing. In a world where social media is ever-present in the lives of the top athletes, he eschews that side of the business almost completely. In interviews, he is quiet, not comfortable with the English language. Instead, he prefers to let his riding do the talking and with three race wins under his belt from his first season among the elites of the EWS, it's saying a lot right now. Yet if you watch him on track, to the unseasoned eye it almost looks like he is taking it easy, not really pushing. It's only when you step back and appreciate the speed and efficiency of it, the high consequence lines that virtually nobody else is even trying, you realise how impressive his riding truly is. If you are looking for a reference point, you need to look no further than his mentor, Nico Vouilloz, arguably the greatest male racer downhill has ever seen. He has learned from the best and with that context, his approach to the sport begins to make complete sense.
We headed over to his home in Nice, France to find out a little more about him.
It is hard not to be impressed with Adrien's story, at how mature he is already. Growing up in Paris there wasn't a lot of scope for riding mountain bikes, so it is something he came to as a teenager, borrowing bikes on his summer holidays in the Alps at 16. In that first summer, he entered his first races and, unsurprisingly was rather good at it. More than that, he found something he loved. So at just 17, he decided to follow his passion, leaving his family in Paris and moving down to Nice on his own so he could give it his all. While his apartment may be nice now, this isn't where he started in Nice, his first apartment was a tiny, run-down bedsit that he jokes about now, the nice flat only came with his success and help from his grandmother.
In that first year, he raced downhill, rubbing shoulders at the races with local racers like Loic Bruni and Loris Vergier. In his own words, he wasn't fast enough, although when you are up against those two, what he means by fast is probably relative. What is certain is that even at that young age he had a thorough understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, feeling that he couldn't hold that intensity of concentration for a 3–5-minute run. Instead, he turned his attention to enduro and during 2015 entered a couple of EWS events as a privateer in the under-21 category. It was those races that brought him to the attention of a certain Nico Vouilloz, who signed him to Lapierre for the 2016 EWS season.
At Nico's request, he stayed in the under-21 category, even though he showed throughout the season that he had the speed to mix it up at the very sharp end of the elite field. He had strong competition from Sebastian Claquin. After a few bad races at the start of the season, he had to win every race to claim the title from the undoubtedly talented Claquin. That pressure was precisely what Nico wanted him to experience before he moved up to the senior ranks.
Adrien has built a strong network around him in Nice. Aside from Vouilloz, he trains with Extrain, the coach that Loris works with, and who Loic worked with until this year, as well as other fast local athletes like Flo Nicolai and Olivier Giordanengo. With his facility just up the road in St. Andre de Roch, he can nip up there and use their tailor-made setup for his twice-weekly weight sessions.
On the technical side, he has Nico tuning his suspension and working with him to get the perfect setup. For the more everyday tasks, he works with Francois Dola, himself a former pro World Cup DH racer. As one of the partners in La Roue Libre, one of Nice's biggest bike shops, he is based just a couple of hundred metres down the road from Adrien. Grinning, he ducks into the back of the shop and fishes out an old photo from the 1994 Cap D'Ail World Cup. It's a podium photo, on the top step is French DH legend Francois Gachet, on the third step is Nico and there is Francois sandwiched between them on the second step. With that kind of experience around him, Adrien's rapid ascent to the sharp end of the results sheet becomes less surprising.
It is easy to forget that Adrien is still only 21 years old, but he doesn't and that's why he has based himself in the city centre. He wants the nightlife and everything else around him. Yet Nice is a unique city, even from his city centre apartment, he can head out of the door on his bike and pedal up to some good trails—all in the classic South of France style with long, rocky straights and tight, awkward switchbacks. It's a recipe that seems to be working pretty well for him...