You have to go back to 2007 for the last time an elite male rider completed the World Cup and World Champs double, and you have to go even further back to the days of Nico Vouilloz to find a time when a rider won a fourth World Championships title. In short, Loic Bruni's 2019 season has rewritten the history books.
Before this year, Bruni seemed to be a one-day specialist, if he was in the zone he could raise his level above the rest of the field and take some historic wins - his three World Champs titles in four years were a testament to that. However, Bruni never really seemed to be able to dial in a consistent season and challenge for the overall. His overall World Cup record is 6th, 4th, 7th, not exactly what you'd expect from the man that has worn the Rainbow Stripes for most of that same time.
This year was different though. Bruni was able to shake off his habit of crashes and injuries and finally put together a challenge for the title. Bruni calls it his "maturity year", the year he could overcome hardships and tread the razor wire between success and failure. He didn't have it easy though as Amaury Pierron was able to produce some scintillating runs and pushed Bruni to one of the closest finishes in World Cup history.
We sat down with Loic to get a full review of his season and his thoughts on the key events.
The best place to start is probably last offseason, were you targeting the overall in your preparation?
Yeah, every year I’ve been thinking about it. In my first year in elite, I was fourth in the overall so I was like, “Ah, maybe one day I can do it,” but the last three years I have been injured.
This winter Specialized was working harder and more closely with us and I was living with Malene [Degn, XC racer and Loic’s partner]. I moved out from my parents and it was the first time I was actually on my own.
What difference did being on your own make?
I actually changed country. I was in Andorra and I didn't have as many friends so I had a lot of time to recover and train well. You know when you don't have much to do, you do everything better? I actually had some good training partners, especially with Malene because she was training hard for the XC season - with parents, you always have things to do for them. I was eating my own food and in my own rhythm, I liked it a lot.
Just living full time for the coming season?
Yeah, Malene was really serious too so she was an influence on me in a positive way.
Did the new bike take much getting used to?
We started testing really early on the old Demo with a 29” wheel up front. We actually liked it and Specialized developed a bike for it so it was really good. They pushed the suspension a bit and then they gave us a lot of options with the geometries so it was cool for us, we had a lot of things to try. I feel like 27.5” is great but it's lacking a little bit of grip and stability against the full 29ers so it was good to catch up.
At the first race of the year, did you have any lingering thoughts of what happened in Croatia the year before?
Yeah, big time, I was super anxious because last year I f*cked myself up. I was really trying to prepare for that first run and we got it out of the way really slow. I just watched a little bit, stayed focussed and took a really slow run. I got it out of the way and then I really felt like myself again and started to build up the weekend.
Rob Warner said you felt your legs were too big in Maribor. What did you mean by that?
I trained really well over winter and I gained a lot of weight muscle wise. I felt a little bit stronger and when I was looking at myself in photos I was like “f*ck, I look too big”.
I felt like I was heavy, especially in Maribor where it was flat, you need some lightness and it was not easy for me to be riding the way I wanted to. I needed to lose 2-3 kilos.
Your win in Maribor was your third ever, do you feel like you should have had more at that point?
Yeah, of course, it should be different but I was just not good enough in the past. I think I was one of the most ready on many races but the way the weekend evolves is hard to control and sometimes I was not good at adapting myself. Most of the time I was in the mix but never good enough to win.
It was a head-scratching thing, I was like "f*ck, I'm doing a lot of things right and it's not happening”. The injuries took a lot of confidence away didn't help, especially as confidence is one of the most important things in our sport. The level was there, the preparation was there but the last little fire to make it faster, I didn't have it - well, I had it only two times before.
Most of the riders on the World Cup are fast enough to win but when the time comes, it's really hard. It can be on a braking point here or a line there, it's really hard to put it all together. It was really good to win, especially after Croatia last year, the worst start of my career. It felt like redemption, I kind of passed the test.
Did you think the season might have been over when you had your crash in Fort William?
I was a little nervous going into Fort William. I don't really like that track, it's good but it's too flat, it's super rough and I hate rain. Motivation was not high for this one at all.
When I was in the air, off the bike, going maybe 60km/h without anything to land on, I was like “f*ck”. I landed really hard on my face and my arms, I stood up and I felt really bad. I kept going but then at the bottom I could feel pain big time.
I wasn’t able to move my elbows anymore and my wrists had no strength so I couldn't even undress myself. I thought I was done at least for the weekend. I was pissed, I was like "f*ck, why am I doing this again?" Time-wise I wasn’t bad in that run but I do the stupidest mistakes and I have massive crashes.
How did you convince yourself to race the next day?
We worked a lot all evening and the next morning to get everything healed. When I woke up I felt really stiff but I was able to hold my handlebar and I was like, “ok, it's not over,'' I just knew it was going to be shitty.
Did you change your bike set up at all?
Yeah a little bit, and the weather was still shitty so we took away some stiffness on the forks so I could hold on but nothing crazy. I wanted to be in the start gate and feel like everything was fine. I didn't want to ride trying to save points, I wanted to ride as if it was a new day and I was fresh.
I thought I had a flat tyre midway so I slowed down and looked back but it was ok, and I just lost like 0.4 bar. I got the hotseat when I crossed the line so I was pretty happy but the last guys were super fast and I got smoked. Confidence wise I took a big hit.
You didn't seem confident on your run in Leogang either, you said in the finish corral it wouldn't hold as soon as you finished, why was that?
All weekend I was struggling, my body was still a little bit stiff and I felt like I was riding shit. The track was a bit weird and slow with a lot of tight turns and, especially in qualifying, I was shit.
I was far from the pace all weekend until that run. I gave everything I had but according to my feelings for three days, I thought I'm going to get smashed for sure. It held on but it was a massive surprise and I think that was the turn of the season. I was able to turn around some bad situations and figure out the way I needed to ride to do well.
It's the first time you've won two World Cups in a season as well, that must have been a big boost?
Yeah, it was massive. I was so surprised and the team was surprised too because they saw me struggling all weekend. We felt that we reached a really good point and I got my confidence back to the maximum. I was so happy, kind of high and that was a really good feeling for going into the next break.
In Vallnord, everyone talks about the steep bits at the bottom but you seemed to win it in the flatter section at the top. What made you so fast though that section?
Yeah, the thing is, everyone is focussing on the setting up of the bike at the bottom but I was actually doing the opposite. The top is actually half of the track so we need to have a good balance and try to optimise both.
At the gate, I was standing there with Troy and we heard Loris' time and it was faster than the qualies while the track was getting slower. We were both like, “ok, it's time to send it or nothing”.
I started really hard, I was pumped up, pedalled a lot and then I railed every section. I've really never ridden these sections as fast as I did so I was pretty cooked going into the steep. I didn't spend enough time on my lines in there, I missed out on some new stuff that popped up the last day and I just rode as fast as I could but I was not super smooth. I didn't think I could win but I was just riding so I could get points again. I crossed the line and I was like, “what the f*ck?”
They don't show the top and at the bottom I really do look slow so I'm a bit sad but I think it was a good strategy. I made the difference there and I'm happy.
So that win puts you into the leader's jersey. Is that exciting or scary?
It's both. I was super proud about being the man of the moment but I started to have some hard moments trying to balance the pressure I put on myself. It started to be hard on the brain from then on.
Well talking about pressure, the next race was in France on the weekend of Bastille Day, how big an occasion did that feel to you?
I loved it. The spectators were crazy, the French people were on top of the sport at the moment, it was a national day, it was the perfect conditions and the track was pretty cool to ride.
I was second in quali, my confidence was really high and I knew I could win. I started to be a little bit overconfident and in the gate the overall thoughts started to come back. I didn't ride as well as expected, I was a bit tight and safe in some parts and when I crossed the line I was surprised to be first with Amaury to go.
I didn't ride well but then Amaury really went for it the whole way and won it. I was a bit pissed, I was like, “f*ck, it was my weekend,” especially as he's French. Of course, I was happy for him because he went for it and Amaury is a really good guy but he stole my show. I got trapped in my own mind so I got what I deserved, I didn't deserve to win, it was still a good weekend but it could have been better.
It's much easier to be the chaser than the chased isn't it?
I started to be in a position where I was like, “f*ck, I wish I was Amaury, I wish I was not first”. Even though it's a good position to be first, you're the target, you have something to defend and people have something to hunt so I feel like it was not a favourable position. Amaury started to be close so I started to question myself again but it was good because I needed to.
In Val di Sole, how hard is it to find the balance between pushing and playing safe?
Val di Sole was a really good test for me because the track was super hard and I knew it was going to rain on the Friday. But I was like, “Loic, don't panic, don't find excuses, just do your thing”. First corner [in qualies] I almost ate shit, then in the first technical section, I got high sided and got ejected so I went off the track. I was really mad, like, “why am I doing it again?” you know it's the same mistakes again. After that, I walked the track in the rain for like 3 hours, it was not easy but I felt like I needed to do it.
When we were warming up [for the race], I was trying to get as much info about the rain and the conditions from the track to adapt my riding. I tried to ride fast but I was not really able to, the bike was too soft, we were not really good at making it perfect for the conditions so it was not easy to push.
I crossed the line first but I was really stressed out for Amaury to come down. When he did, he was riding the same way as I was so I ended up 4th and I was super happy about it. It was a great moment for me because I got 150 or 160 points in the overall so it was like a good safety margin.
The day after we went riding and we saw Amaury testing wheels and he was super motivated. I was like, “shit, he's crazy!” I would never ride this track again the day after the race, especially when we have Lenzerheide the weekend after. He was making bad decisions and I think mentally it hit him so I was pretty happy but still he wanted it, you know?
Is it hard being close rivals with such a good friend?
It is, although it's better to be rivals with a good friend than with someone you don't like. It was hard because we were close but we were getting a bit of distance between us. I wanted to beat him so I couldn't share much. I was like, “f*ck, this is the guy who can take my dream away” so I didn't want to hang out as much with him and it was the same for him. When we get one or two drinks, it was ok but it's hard for sure.
On to Lenzerheide, you heard the result in the gate there too, right?
Yeah, actually at qualies, Amaury was fifth and I was second, I was like, "f*ck yeah, tomorrow if I do really well I could almost clinch it". So I started to not think the right things in my head like "oh yeah, I can do it, Amaury's not so fast this week" and then I was going into the gate just after the warm-up I heard "Amaury Pierron, crazy run, la la la".
I lost all my skills and from feeling good, feeling relaxed I started to lose control of my abilities and I was like just stressed out, I couldn't ride as well as I wanted.
So it's in your head the whole way down?
Yeah, because I knew I had to get everything good and I was not doing it. You know when the rhythm is a little bit off and you don't carry speed? I was getting mad in my helmet, just “f*ck, f*ck, f*ck” so I didn't have the best run, it was hard.
Was Worlds a distraction with you being so focussed on the overall?
Worlds was cool because I was looking for a race with no afterthoughts. I really like the track it felt so good to be back there. I didn't want to think about Snowshoe at all. Brook's a good friend and he had a massive crash. I was like, “I'm going to ride as good as I can, do it for Brook, do it for the glory and we'll see, it doesn't matter.”
What's your secret at Worlds?
We have one more day of practice, which is something I really like. Plus, we have way more people around us from the federation, so the team is doing the same work but we have extra help. When I'm in the gate and I know everything has been made to be fast, I feel ready to push.
Have you given much thought to Nico's 7 senior world titles? I know it's easy for me to say but it's only 3 more World Championships to go.
It's just f*cking far away man. Each year it's getting harder and harder. I'm super happy to be closer than any other rider, but it's still way too far. I want to win more World Champs for sure but I’m not someone who cares about records yet, I just want to race the bike, be satisfied and make people stoked about it.
And then we were onto Snowshoe for the title decider. Does a new track add to the pressure?
Of course, but then everyone was in the same situation, especially Europeans. Mentally it was hard, I felt a little tiredness from the whole season in my brain and I was struggling with the bike a lot.
What things were you struggling with?
Our bike is made to go fast when it's steep and that was the opposite of steep, so it was hard to carry the speed and I was fighting with the bike. Then the day after, I wanted to do some telemetry and I broke my wheel in the first rocks, so I couldn't have the info I wanted. I wasn't ready, the opposite feeling of Canada. My bike was not ready, my lines were not fully dialled in.
What were you feeling in the gate then?
I was trying to convince myself I was ready. Amaury, when he is in that position of hunting me, excels and pushes and makes crazy runs. I didn't know his time, I didn't want to know but I knew it was fast, otherwise at least one person would have told me.
I was just a bit off-balance. I had the same feeling as Lenzerheide when I was under pressure and I couldn't ride relaxed. I tried to push but I was not so good.
You looked pretty pissed off when you crossed the line. Did you think it was done?
I didn't think it was done but I put the stress to the next level you know? Amaury was first and I had to be third and there was still Danny in the gate. I was like "why am I not good enough to be at least second so I'm safe?"
I think Amaury believed in it more than I did. I felt like I f*cked up. Even though it was still a good result, the moment I have to put together a good run, I don't do it.
Were you able to watch Danny's run?
I wanted to be living it, the track was super physical and I pedalled super hard but I was not even breathing. The time stopped and I just watched Danny's run.
The third split he got in front of me and I was like, “no way, he's going to take it away from me.” That's when I went to Amaury and I started to have a defeated speech, congratulating him for his win.
And then Danny, second to last split goes green and it started to be all possible again. Danny pedalled like a beast and kept the gap and won it and I wasn't sure what was happening. Danny crossed the line and everyone looked at me screaming and putting their hands up and then Blenki was like "yeah, you did it bro" and then it was just an explosion in my head.
Do you have many memories of the celebrations?
Yeah, I remember Blenki as the main guy and then the team jumping the fences and all the people coming to me. I didn't even win the race, but I felt like I did. Everyone was just next level happy and floating in the clouds.
What was the first thing you said to Danny?
I think I said, "I love you so much", something like that.
In the post-race interview you called it the maturity year, what did you mean by that?
That was the first year that I was able to turn around some bad weekends and keep it together all my race runs. I feel like I used my maturity that I've never really been able to use before. All the injuries, the shit moments in the past really paid off for one moment and that was the point so I think I was mature.
Which means more? World Champs or World Cup overall?
It's really hard to compare the two things. I think because I've never won it before, I would say the World Cup overall because I have always been dreaming about it but for sure the World Champs has always been special.
Maybe because the World Cup was really hard to the end and super stressful, maybe I prefer the World Champs because it was nicer but the emotional lift of the World Cup was crazy too, I love them both.