Here we are, back in the land of miracles and unexplainable feats. Of course, it is the Virgin Mary who's said to have appeared on a total of eighteen occasions here in Lourdes that has made this small town at the foot of the Pyrenees famous for recent centuries. It's a place of massive religious pilgrimage where faithful and wishful should travel in from all corners of the globe hoping their prayers and wishes will be heard and answered.
In its modern time, Lourdes now has a population of around 15,000 residents but takes on an additional 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists each season to give it the feel of a major urban center complete with the hustle and bustle of human activity around every corner. This week however there is a new pilgrimage in town, one where the participants are more concerned with the holy qualities of the dirt rather than the water as they look to kick off the UCI downhill season on Lourdes' hallowed ground. Marking the opening of the season for the third year in a row the track may very well become as legendary as the town itself. And while three years has nothing on a century, and a few thousand people isn't quite as big as a million, it's still nice to think that our little World Cup Pilgrimage holds a bit of relevance in this unique location. We are after all situated just below some of the biggest mountains on the planet, the Pyrenees.
After what seems like the longest of off-seasons where there's been a lot of shuffling about of teams and sponsors, things are looking quite fresh and exciting with quite a few unknowns on the horizon. Loic Bruni is on totally new suspension never raced at the highest level, riders like Mannon Carpenter and Mike Jones are coming back from injuries, all of the Santa Cruz Syndicate are about to race the first truly competitive 29" wheeled DH bike in World Cup competition, countless other riders are running new frames, brakes, tires, etc and all are hoping that the off-season of testing will truly make the difference. We wouldn't even be surprised if a few riders or mechanics have been sneaking out at night to fill their buckets with Holy Water in hopes of gaining that extra edge.
On top of all that there's the track here Lourdes. The organizers have taken what was already one of the best courses on the circuit and given in a subtle but significant facelift. The rock-studded beast that snakes down the Pic du Jer in brutal fashion has always been a rider favorite, and response to the demand for more natural and technical tracks, many of the berms and bench cut straightaways have been removed. In their place, we have flat corners, off-camber straights, direct inside lines with some big consequences, and a whole lot of fresh loam and hero dirt. In fact, the relatively dry Spring combined with rain (and snow) the past few days has left the track in primo condition. The soil is pure perfection, and since we are in Lourdes we might as well just say that it is devine.
Get stoked. The 2017 World Cup Downhill Series is here...