Racing can be cruel sometimes, and no one knows that more than Rachel Atherton right now. After a dislocated shoulder took her out of World Cup action earlier this season all attention then shifted to defending her World Champions crown here in Cairns. An entire season of hard work piled into one race, and it would all go up in smoke during timed training with a crash and the resulting broken collarbone. One mistake and an entire years effort were written off in the blink of an eye.
On a brighter note, there are lots of other stories to tell after the timed session for Elites and seeding runs for Juniors that were held Friday afternoon in hot and sunny Cairns. Some racers showed their hand while others decided it best to keep everyone guessing, but still with a little speculation mixed with educated guessing the riders to watch for finals are starting to emerge.
Finn Iles, of course, is the obvious favorite in the Junior Men, but we have Aussie and relative newcomer Joshua Clark behind him by a scant two seconds. For the Junior Women, we were expecting to see Melanie Chappaz dominate as she has done all season but it would be Shania Rawson who would take the top spot just ahead of Paula Zibasa. In Elites it is looking like the fairy tale ending of the double Hannah win on home turf is now very much a realistic outcome. Mick took the top time in the men's field just ahead of Loïc Bruni, while Tracey was way ahead at the top split before intentionally slowing up in the bottom half. The fastest time for the ladies would belong to Tahnée Seagrave, who after winning the final two World Cups of the season is on form and on fire right now. Behind the top times is a long list of riders who may or may not have held back, or crashed pushing to one hundred percent for the first time; most notably riders with names like Danny Hart, Aaron Gwin, and Troy Brosnan.
So what will it be? Will Aaron Gwin finally win the World Champs title that has eluded him year over year? Can Mick and Tracey Hannah make it a brother and sister celebration on the top step, or will Tahnée Seagrave and Loïc Bruni steal the show? What of Greg Minnaar and Miriam Nicole? Perhaps the ultimate dark horse, Sam Hill, will mix things up with a medal in what will likely be his last ever international DH race. Whatever the case it's going to be one heck of a show as the best racers in the world fight tooth and nail over the fractions of a second that will ultimately decide the World Champion.
The dry and dead jungle is a stark contrast to the conditions we've seen the past two visits to Cairns.
Lots of pool time for Polygon UR to keep the mood chill after long and hot days on the hill.
Super Bruni is ready to make an appearance at the biggest race of the year.
The struggle is real... And not just for Connor Fearon – this is a brutal course with national pride and medals on the line.
Here's the thing; if Sam Hill scores well tomorrow people will say it's all about the track – a demonstration of the 'inadequate' gnar levels. Being here in person it's hard to believe this course isn't brutal... only a literal legend could pilot a trail bike into the medals here and there aren't many folks around who fit the description.
Amaury Pierron has proven himself a ride of true international pedigree this season and perhaps the young Frenchman isn't quite done yet...
After a stellar season, Tahnee has more pressure on her shoulders than usual at World Champs.
Sam Hill has been riding full gas and pushing hard everywhere at a pace that might be in contention for a medal.
Loic Bruni won here a year ago, and he showed in the timed runs that he is on the gas and a front runner once again.
Little Trace won't seem so little tomorrow when she comes out fully swinging on her home turf.
Jack Moir was a big turn-up of the timed session in 3rd, besting the stacked Aussie field bar Mick, not to mention the Gwin and Minnaars of this world.
Rachel Atherton took a hard crash at the top of her timed run, re-injuring her shoulder in the process. Her status for Sunday is still unknown, but things are not looking good for the defending champ. (-Ed: It's since been confirmed that Rachel broke her collarbone)
Troy looks to have the pace here in Cairns, he just needs to keep it on two wheels when the clock starts ticking tomorrow.
Connor Fearon isn't one hundred percent but is still looking forward to racing on home turf.
Mick Hannah sends it over Mick's Drop.
Blenki boots one over the top.
A true test of conscience...
Shania Rawson is looking for junior rainbows tomorrow and based on the seeding she might just be about to take gold back to NZ.
Gas To Flat sending it fully pinned into the whoops.
Gee Atherton through the jungle.
Bruce Klein has been in great form of late – a top ten in the timed session is proof of his speed in the dust.
Myriam Nicole getting aggressive through the top section of switchbacks.
Keagan Wright shreds his way through the dusty lower woods.
Vaea Verbeek navigates the rocks in the dark.
Greg Minnaar knows a thing or two about turning it on at World Champs and he is looking to add to his impressive medal collection tomorrow.
Kaos Seagrave boosting even before his final junior race.
Tahnee set the fastest time in Friday's timed runs, but if you look close at the split times you will see that It was Tracey Hannah who was fastest on the track.
Don't let the timed run results fool you. Tracey Hannah was three seconds up at the first split before purposely slowing up at the bottom of the track. If she carries that speed all the way to the bottom on Sunday she is going to be very hard to beat.
One-man Irish band, Jacob Dickson, bouncing off the giant jungle roots.
Laurie Greenland is looking fast and dangerous in the forest despite having lost a large amount of skin in the first practice session.
Myriam Nicole already has one title this year, and if she wants to double up she is going to have to dig deep on Sunday.
Kade Edwards had the most relaxed style over the massive huck that is Mick's Drop. Unfortunately, a big crash on his next run ended the week early and he will not be racing on Sunday.
Aaron Gwin has been keeping some lines to himself this week, away from the prying eyes of team coaches spread along the track. He held it open in timed runs, but one can only assume that he still has a lot of speed hidden up his sleeve.
Myriam Nicole and manager Thibaut Ruffin look for a switch-up to her exit from the rock garden.
Rudy Cabirou had a more than solid year at the World Cup, but in the timed session layed down an absolute heater for an astonishing 5th place.
Aussie junior, Joshua Clark, turned a lot of heads to take 2nd in the junior seeding run.
Jack Moir was just two seconds back in Friday's timed session and is only of a handful of Aussie's who could win on home soil tomorrow.
Paula Zibasa is sitting in the runner up spot after seeding and will need to pull back 6 seconds on Shaina Rawson if she wants to take home the gold.
When the shuttles are over at the end of training, the best get their push on to dial in the last of their lines.
The peace sign from AG, but he knows full well; this is war.
Last man left in the jungle today was Greg Minnaar, scoping those last possible line tune-ups.
Ice baths are all the rage in the pits to battle the extreme heat here in Cairns.
Tracey and Mick Hannah have the luxury of relaxing at home this week, and they have been using it to their advantage to help deal with the pressure that comes with racing in their home town.
Autographs.... who wants one? Form an orderly queue people.
Lots to think about with World Champs just a few hours away.
Polish Pete taking Gee's Trek Session to the strip club.
Gee Atherton has had his roughest season in many years, possibly ever... a dislocated hip will do that to you. But he's back up to speed and he's won here before. Never in his own shoes, however...
Whether or not we get to witness that miracle run for the gold medal tomorrow, it's been fun to imagine that this man could do the impossible (again). As a minimum you can expect some solid hot seat time; Sam Hill being the very first rider out of the gate.
Tomorrow 68 racers will be going for gold and just 1 will be trying to keep it... You can count on a Danny Hart special on the big day and there's only a handful of others with the capacity to go one further.
Rememeber this is Loic's track and he won't be giving it up without a fight either.