Ask any serious race fan about Troy Brosnan and you're likely to get no shortage of superlatives. Since his debut in 2010 he has always been one of the riders to watch, a little guy who seems to float through impossibly rough sections, carries unbelievable speed and can challenge for the win on any track. His consistency is second-to-none. You have to go back to La Bresse in 2011 to find a World Cup where he finished outside the top 20, and out of the 29 World Cups he has competed in since then, he has had 17 podiums and has only been out of the top 10 four times.
Yet there has only been one win, Fort William 2014 when he defied the pundits to stand atop the podium on a track that was always considered a big man's track. He has been so close, but it hasn't quite come together since. For 2017, in the biggest move of the off-season, he signed for Canyon's newly formed DH team, taking the step from sharing the team pits with some of the sport's greats to becoming a lead rider, with a structure built around him and his needs. We caught up with him at a testing camp in Blausasc, France, to find out more about the move, how he sees his last few seasons and where he is aiming for in the future.
How was last season for you? It seems like you were close all season, but didn't quite get over the top.
Yeah. I guess last season for me was a really good one. I can't complain. I got 3rd overall and 4th at Worlds, so, you know, that's a really good year. In terms for me, personally, I want to win, so I saw it as not the perfect year. It just seems like things didn't quite click perfectly last year with putting everything together on the race day. I always had really good qualifiers and was really fast in practice, then just made a few mistakes and wasn't getting quite the bike set up that I needed, and a few internal things were just not right. These days you really need to be absolutely perfect and go through smoothly. You should pretty much only have to worry about one thing and that's racing and having fun. It just didn't feel like that most of the season. Towards the end, it started getting a lot better and we figured things out, made the bike go a little bit faster here and there. And yeah, got a little bit unlucky in a couple of races; apart from that, it was a good season, but also a little bit of a frustrating season for myself.
For yourself, in your head, do you find it easier to be a bit further back, knowing it didn't go right or to be so close and just like, "Dammit, almost there"?
I guess it's hard when you're so close to winning. Kind of like I was in Cairns, especially with the race being in Australia, and I was only 0.4 off Loic. That one hurt a fair bit, for sure. Just losing it in the sprint was a bit sucky, but at the same time, it was something that kept me motivated and kept me working really hard throughout the season to try and get that win again and come back from it. At the same time, when you've had a bit of a bad race and you're a bit far behind, that probably hurts a bit more because it drops your confidence a little bit. You're wondering, Why wasn't I on the pace? Why wasn't I closer to the top guys?
In your head you know that you should be there, so do you see next season as a case of trying to put those missing few bits in place?
Yeah, for sure. I know that I can be there and I will be there. It's just being there at the time that's the hard bit, I guess. I think with everything that's going on and happened this year, already the testing that we've done and work on the bike, is beyond anything I've ever done before. It's going to be a good year and hopefully, we get a few wins and make it easier for ourselves. There is still a lot to learn, for sure, with the team, seeing as how it's a brand new team. Apart from that, I don't think things could go much better than they're going right now. I'm feeling fast. The other boys, Mark and Ruaridh, are having a great time and feeling fast as well. The bike's working sick and the suspension's good and there are no excuses.
Brosnan and Fabien Barel take a break during a pre-season photo shoot.
How did the Canyon deal come around?
I was up with my Specialized contract and wasn't really fishing around at all, but had a few teams come to me. Specialized kind of wanted to keep me on the factory team just as my own rider with no teammates or send me to the Gravity team with Loic and I didn't really feel like either of those options were going to be right for me to be able to take it to the next level, the next step to win. The Canyon deal came along with Fabien backing it and supporting it big time. They wanted to build the team around me—you can't really ask for more than that in a team. It's been pretty good so far. I'm pretty excited about how the whole team's been going with the riding and even getting a bit mentored by Fabien. It's something that most people would dream of.
How is it for you having a team built around you? Because obviously in the beginning you were with Sam Hill, then there was Aaron Gwin, so it's always ... I don't want to say in the shadows because that's not fair to you, but there has always been a very big other presence on the team with you.
Yeah for sure. I guess coming into the first year I raced in 2010 underneath Sam and Brendan, it was a good thing for me. I learned so much from them. It increased my riding skill and speed ten times more than I could ever imagine. Growing up and being at the same level as them, and being as fast as them was really good. Then for Aaron to come along, I think that was also another key thing. I was getting top tens at World Cups and then he came along. In 2013 we were both having a bit of a struggle that year with bike set up before we went to the 650 wheels. Then in 2014 I won my first World Cup and was beating him, having good races. I guess from my perspective, in 2014 I felt like I was ready to be somewhat of the top rider and number one rider on the team and I thought I'd have some backing to make that happen. A couple of things happened with the Gravity team getting bought and going to Specialized. It didn't really affect me at all because it was completely another team, but I guess just that feeling of having a great team behind me and trying to push me to be number one was what I was striving for. Whatever's been laid out and put in front of me to get to this point in time right now has been good and I've learned a lot. Now that I've finally accomplished what I've been striving for, I think it's going to be something really good going forward.
If you look at the World Cup, most of the top guys came through with an older rider above them. Actually, a lot of the riders that tend to struggle tend to be the ones that came up on their own. How big a deal is it to have someone there—for you, it was obviously Sam in the beginning. You look at Brendan had Steve and so did Josh. Loic had Nico Vouilloz. Aaron's a bit of an anomaly, I guess. How beneficial is that as a young rider coming through?
Obviously Aaron's a totally different case for that. He's just got that raw natural talent from his moto riding. I think myself coming through as a junior and having Sam and Brendan, and even Aaron, at that stage was something that accelerated my riding and made me push and learn so much. You can only learn things from riders that are faster than you on the track. Off the track, obviously, you can have other help at the same time. You can either do it on your own and it's going to take a while or you can fast track that with the riders that are faster than you and who are going to make you push yourself harder to be faster than them and keep up with them at the same time.
How involved were you in choosing Mark and Ruaridh as your teammates for this year?
A little bit involved, I guess. I definitely had a lot of phone calls with Fabien trying to get that all sorted. I really wanted Ruaridh to come along. He's one of my good buddies and he's been there with me racing for a while now. I met him back in 2009 in Whistler. We didn't really have much planned for Mark, to be honest. It was a bit of a late notice that his team folded and when Devinci folded it was a no-brainer to get him on the team. He's a really nice guy and really good rider and his personality and everything fits perfectly and I think him being still so young it's really good for the team to have him. I think we'll be able to see big things out of all three of us.
How has it been changing bikes? Obviously the internet likes to bag on the Demo a bit and I think Fabien's got a very different philosophy to virtually any rider at his level. He has an openness to changing everything and looking to develop things. How has that been for you?
It's been really good. For sure the Specialized was a great bike. Coming to Canyon it was a lot different with the geometry and everything. For me, riding it for a few months now, it's been really good and the level that I'm feeling that I'm on is really fast and probably the fastest I've ever been. I feel like I can push this bike a little bit further than I could push the other bike. It's something I'm pretty excited to say at the same time. Also, I think that it's definitely helped with Fabien's work beforehand and all the testing that he's done on it and developing the bike. He's been a racer for a long time now and he knows what a rider needs and wants from a bike. We've come through with some younger riders with Ruaridh, I and Mark brought a bit of new school to try and make it faster again, and definitely Fabien's learning from us at the same time. I think with everyone working together right now we're all really stoked for one another and I don't think there's going to be any rivalry at all. I think we're all just going to help as one big team and when someone does a really good race result we're all going to be really happy.
How has the way you set up your bike changed in any particular way, in terms of bike sizing or weight distribution or suspension? Has anything significant changed with the new bike and all the testing?
I've had a lot more testing than I've ever had when I've been on Specialized. That's pretty much all we've done this whole time being on Canyon. It's just been test, test, test. That's the only way you're going to learn and go almost two steps backward and one step forward just trying to make these little changes and also big changes to keep going faster. I think it's really good and it's starting to help out. It's something that was definitely difficult, at the beginning, to get my head around, but now that it's becoming like second nature, it's pretty special.
Have you gone to a bigger bike then, moving to Canyon?
It's still medium, the same as my Specialized bike, but it's a longer reach and definitely we've put the chainstays in a longer position, so it's a bit more raked-out and longer as well. It kind of feels a bit more stable. I kind of tried that a little bit on the Specialized, but for some reason, the geometry didn't quite work the same. It just felt like it was the bike from stock on a Specialized was about all you could get out of it.
In Loris Vergier's interview, upon joining the Syndicate, he said there was quite a fine margin for error on the Specialized.
What I found with the Specialized was that it rode really fast, but it was hard to ride fast. You'd have to work so hard to make it go fast, and once you did get there and rode at that level it would go really, really quick down the hill...but it was just a lot of work and a lot of effort to make that happen.
For you, what do you look for in a bike? Obviously you're one of the smaller guys on the circuit, so what do you look for in a race bike?
It's a hard one. I guess what I look for in a bike and a race bike is something that's obviously going to handle well cause the tracks these days, you don't need to pedal too much, it's pretty fast, flat-out and all about cornering and holding speed everywhere. I guess that kind of translates into how well the wheels roll and how light the bike is as well. It's a bit of a balance, I think. Some bikes suit certain people, and other bikes suit others. You probably wouldn't see a really short guy like myself on a large Santa Cruz anytime soon.
One of the big questions for you is going to have to be Cairns, isn't it? Conventional wisdom is that it'd be the bigger guys who can put the power down would have the advantage on the sprinting. But... you were so close last time in Cairns. How do you see that race lining up in your head? It's a home Worlds, so that's probably the most pressurised race any rider's going to face in their career?
For me it's exciting to be able to have a home World Champs at Cairns this year. Going to a new team and everything, it's a little bit different, but for me that track is won or lost more in the technical areas than it is in the bottom sprint. Obviously I lost it at the bottom sprint last year, but Loic definitely was only .1 behind me at the last split anyway. So, it was kind of a sprint to the line and we're both not the biggest guys, tallness-wise. We were kind of a level above everyone else, so I think it's going to be tough one to be able to set the bike up where it can descend the whole top section, mid-section and also be able to sprint. It's going to be definitely one that, obviously, I want to win. If I did win it'd be really amazing, but I'm not trying to put any more pressure on myself or anything. It's just pretty much go and have fun, and if I have fun and ride well, hopefully come out on top.
Do you think we'll see some special bikes coming out? Fox have the X2 with the remote for enduro guys. Do you see something like that coming out of the bag for that race? What do you think?
It's World Champs, I think anything can happen. I'm not sure, or have heard of anything else that people might be testing on, maybe a 29er here or there, but I think the turns at the top and everything else is a bit tight for a 29er to win there, but, for sure if they want to try it, go ahead.
Last time the Worlds were down in Australia, Fabien Barel had that short-travel Mondraker.
I guess Canberra was a little bit of a special track that—that track was pretty fast and actually a bit flat, so a short travel bike could have definitely been a goer there, but at the same time Peaty won on a perfectly normal, downhill bike, so I think it's kind of each to their own. Whatever you feel like you can ride the fastest is going to be the most beneficial for the rider, but you'll definitely be seeing me on the Sender there.
You came up with Sam; he's feeling a little bit over the way the World Cup tracks are going at the moment. But you seem to have adapted quite well to it. How would you see the direction it's going at the moment and where would you like to see it go next? How would you like to see it develop?
I think, with Sam, I see it from his perspective as well. Back in the day, you used to have really natural, loamy tracks with roots and lots of lines and now the tracks are kind of going to more wider open and big jumps, not many turns...kind of straight down the hill. That pretty much is all to do with TV and filming it, you know? It's what Red Bull wanted. It's what they strived for in a track and it sucks a little bit. It's taking away a bit of downhill's background of having real technical and crazy tracks. I guess the more media and the more TV coverage we get the better it is for our support and I have to adapt, really. There's no way around it. I don't really want to change from downhill to enduro or any other sport, so I've got to make things work and go from there.
Fast forward 10 months time to October. Looking back, what in your head would the point where you'd say, "Okay, I'm happy with that season. I feel good about that. "What in your head does that look like?
I definitely want to just have fun this year. It's going to be a big learning curve for sure with the new team and new bike. Results-wise I want to get wins here or there and be up on the podium every race. I'm definitely going to be happy if I do that, but if I can get a few wins and get the rainbows at the home track for World Champs, it'll definitely make me happy.
Will we see you at the EWS again?
I'm going to put all the EWS and all the enduros aside and just really focus on downhill. I feel like they're two completely separate sports and disciplines. You need to be really fit for hours on end for enduro and be able to hit your max zones over and over, where for downhill you just need to be good for about 5 minutes. My training in the past has kind of been split between the two of them, but this year I've gotten a new trainer and we've been working to be exactly on the downhill side of things, so hopefully that shows.