Under sunny skies and on one of the best tracks on the circuit, the racing finally kicked off here in Lourdes and marked the official start of the 2017 World Cup Series. Just as predicted, the day was packed with action, a little drama, and all kinds of excitement. While yesterday's timed training session helps to give a rough idea of where people might shake out, it's not until the clock ticks for real and ever precious World Cup series points are on the line until we really get to see how everyone stacks up. And in every category, there were more than a few surprises.
First up were the junior men, where reigning champ Finn Iles was looking all but unbeatable. But as they say, "looks can be deceiving," and it would actually be Matt Walker who would grab the top spot ahead of Kaos Seagrave who put down an amazing time to grab his best ever result. Finn, of course, is still in the mix, but at 1.6 seconds down on such a short track, it's not going to come easy. Newcomer Kade Edwards would take 4th in his first ever World Cup, and showed that the next generation to come through the ranks will be as competitive as ever.
In the women's, race we saw some of the closest racing in what feels like ages, with the top five separated by less than five seconds and the top three just two seconds apart. Even more impressive is who wasn't at the top of the list. Pre-race favorite and unbeaten for nearly two years, Rachel Atherton was knocked back a spot by Tahnee Seagrave. Tahnee had the speed all of 2016 and was definitely the heir apparent to Rachel's throne, but injury upon injury kept knocking her back each time she got close. With a solid off-season to train and heal up, Tahnee is finally living up to her potential and wants nothing more than to leave her mark on 2017. Third through fifth would be made up of Manon Carpenter, Tracey Hannah and Myriam Nicole. All of whom, are within striking distance of the top time.
For the men, it wasn't just an issue of who, but also of what. Sure, the usual suspects were up front and the current Word Cup and World Champs finished a few spots back, but the real news was which bikes took top honors. There's been rumbling all off-season about the development of 29ers and lots of talk about how they are faster, etc. Of course, there has been equally as much trash talk being thrown right back at all the hype. Today was judgment day so to speak, and the big wheels let the stopwatch do all the talking. Not only did Loris Vergier pilot the big wheeled V10 to the fastest time, his teammate Luca Shaw would come third to make a Bruni Sandwich out of Loic, who managed to slip his little wheels in between. The fastest men of 2016, Danny Hart and Aaron Gwin would round out the top five, just ahead of Greg Minnaar and his 29er.
While the big wheels proved they can put down some pace and run at the top of the field, they certainly didn't prove to be the be-all end-all that some rumors had made them out to be. In fact, the qualifying round in Lourdes produced some of the tightest times we have seen on the circuit with the top five separated by a mere 1.3 seconds, and the entire top 10 all within three seconds. With tomorrow being the true day of reckoning, we are guaranteed to be in for one heck of a show.