After a seven-month break, the clock finally started ticking as the best Downhill racers in the world got their chance to line up and kick off the 2017 season. With World Cup racing just a month away, the steep fast and technical track here in Rotorua is the perfect way to kick things into high gear. First used for World Champs in 2016, and now proper weathered, the course features everything needed to separate the weak from the strong. It also marks the first time many riders are seen on new teams or with new equipment sponsors, and the time is now to see if all the pre-season testing and training has been enough to ensure they can keep pace in an ultra-competitive race environment.
In the women's race, Tracey Hannah was the early favorite, but a massive crash left her with a badly swollen ankle and unable to even walk properly. While that left the door open for others to capitalize, Tracey was able to tape it up, tough it out, and as expected set the fastest time when it counted. With World Champs in her's and her brother Mick's hometown of Cairns later this Summer, Tracey is super focused on being on winning form. With her result today it is safe to say she has ticked off all the right boxes in the offseason. Second place for Emilie Siegenthaler marked her return to competition after an ACL injury and surgery sidelined her at the end of 2016. Rounding out the podium was EWS racer and Whip Off Champ Casey Brown, who proved once again she is one of the all-around best mountain bikers on the planet.
In the men's race, all eyes were on last year's winner Loic Bruni, and Troy Brosnan, both of whom were sporting some shiny new sponsors. But it was the riders who flew under the radar and away from the prying eyes of the cameras and commentators that would take everyone by surprise and preview the season that is to come. A season where the race results may be anything but predictable. Giant's new signing of Eliot Jackson proved to be a smart decision as the young American racer stormed the track to take third while Mick Hannah took second to join his sister on the podium, kicking off his 2017 campaign in the best possible way. But it was the young Aussie nicknamed "Shark Attack" who would sneak in and steal the show right out from under everyone. Yes, Jack Moir really was attacked by a shark while surfing a few years back and has the scars on his leg to prove it. Having spent much of the past two seasons recovering from a severely broken collarbone, we've never seen his true potential; Until now that is.
Hold on to your hats. The 2017 Downhill Season has begun and it is looking to be one of the best ever.