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.
Much of the upper bits of track are cut through a farmer's pasture, and with heavy rain all week the soft ground became a rutted out nightmare.
Full moto and with the roost flying, Eliot Jackson had no trouble with the slick conditions to kick off the season with a spot on the podium.
The sun might have been shining for the finals, but with days of rain and plenty of early morning dew, the track was still super slick everywhere.
Miranda Miller trying to stay out of the ruts.
Finn Iles finding the limits of traction in the morning training session. Later in the day, he would dominate the junior race; His just international competition as a World Champion.
Marc Wallace flying the new Canyon Factory colors for the first race of the season.
The Bulldog Muscling through his way down the Larches.
Jackson Frew has moved up to Elites and will be going toe to toe with the big guns this year.
Casey Brown shows a little style on her way to the third step of the podium today.
Unfortunately Alex Fayolle has been suffering from food poisoning, and despite giving it a go in practice, was forced to pull out of the final.
Second place finisher Mick Hannah boosting.
Emilie Siegenthaler looks to have recovered from her ACL injury and surgery that cut short her 2016 season. With a 2nd place here today behind Tracey Hannah she will go into the WC season with some added confidence.
Canadian through and through, Casey Brown sent in down the DH track in flannel today to a third place finish.
Some riders gapped this natural step-down while others kept it low and tidy.
Feet up and fully committed in the mud for Brendog.
Race Winner Jack Moir through the pitch black and steep Larches section of the track.
Sometimes the track bites back hard.
Loic Bruni taking the plunge into the Larches. This section of track is as steep or steeper than anything on the World Cup circuit, and with the added moisture, making it through clean was a rarity.
A crash in the woods and a slip up on this final shoot ended Loic's hope for a repeat of last year's win here.
Bernard Kerr scrubs in low over the big steppe.
Jill Kintner had a few moments in practice but pulled it together during the finals.
Vaea Verbeeck rode super aggressive and finished just back from the podium.
Brendan Fairclough floating through the forest just above the finish arena.
Marcelo Gutierrez cuts inside the last corner with the finish in sight.
Shark Attack Jack Moir coming in for the kill in Rotorua.
The Queen of Crankworx, Jill Kinner, dropping into the finish arena.
Kiwi hero Eddie Masters blasting through the man-made bridge and rock garden section of track.
Henry Fitzgerald and the new Norco Prototype.
Top ten finish for Keegan keeps him in the running for King of Crankworx.
The legendary Fabien Barel.
Laurie demonstrates how to cross the finish line.
The long NZ summer is coming to an end for Laurie.
Great day for the Hannah family, both Mik and Tracey were on the podium.
Full aggro from Troy Brosnan with the finish line in sight.
A puncture put an end to Phil's day, unfortunately.
With World Champs later this season in Mick's hometown of Cairns, Australia he's been super motivated for top results in 2017. A second place here in Rotorua means he is definitely on the right track.
Loic enjoying the fans, despite an odd mistake at the bottom of his run.
Troy disappointed with his run.
A big crash in practice almost sidelined Tracey Hannah, and her ankle was too swollen to even walk properly. Once strapped up and braced she was able to tough it out when in counted and took the win here at Crankworx.
Jack gets congratulated by teammate, Charlie Harrison
Another win for Finn. A really strong start to another long season.
Eliot Jackson... New team, new season, and killing it in Rotorua.
Jack Moir and the fastest bike in Rotorua.
The fastest guns in Rotorua
Eliot may have been third across the line but he was first to get the bottles poppin' on the podium.