Is the Commencal/Vallnord World Cup downhill team also the French national team? Not really, but with heavy hitters Rémi Thirion and Amaury Pierron, Myriam Nicole, Thibaut Daprela, as well as team managers Gaëtan and Thibaut Ruffin, both of whom also still compete, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking so. Pierron has moved up to the factory team after a few seasons racing on a Commencal satellite outfit, a transition that makes sense after he stood on a World Cup podium in 2016 while at Lourdes and Val di Sole last year. He joined Thirion for 2018 as Rémi works his way back up to speed after a horrendous crash at last year's Leogang World Cup.
Both Rémi and Amaury are on Commencal's 29'' wheeled Supreme DH at Fort William, with those big wheels making a lot of sense on what is one of the roughest tracks of the season.
Rémi Thirion (above, left) might not be a regular winner on the World Cup circuit, but his balls-out style that he combines with some rather creative line choices has made the French racer a fan favorite. He's won in the past, too, including an impressive victory at the Andorra World Cup back in 2013, although a nasty crash in Leogang last year resulted in three broken ribs and two fractured vertebrae. That's enough to take the wind out of anyone's sails. He's back on track, however, and back up to speed in Scotland.
• 28 years old
• 174cm and 72kg
• 2019 medium-sized frame (same as '18 large)
• 780mm wide handlebar; 35mm stem
• 1.7 bar (24.6 psi) front; 2 bar (29 psi) rear
• CushCore tire inserts front and rear
Amaury Pierron (above, right) might not be as well-known as his equally French teammate, but he joins the Commencal/Vallnord World Cup team after some solid results over the previous few seasons. That includes a near-win in Val Di Sole last year, as well as a handful of other World Cup podiums. And at just 22 years old, Pierron has plenty of time to find those last few tenths that can make the all the difference at this level of competition.
• 22 years old
• 180cm and 80kg
• 2019 large-sized frame w/ +5mm offset headset
• 800mm handlebar; prototype 40mm stem
• 1.8 bar (26.1 psi) front; 1.9 bar (27.5 psi) rear
• CushCore tire inserts front and rear
Rémi Thirion's Supreme DH
Thirion is on a 2019 medium-sized Supreme, but it's as long as last year's large.
Rémi is on Commencal's 220mm-travel big-wheeler for Fort William but, like a lot of racers at this level, he wasn't immediately won over by 29'' wheels. ''Last year I was on a 29er for Fort William, but after my crash at Leogang, I would like to be on 650B again because I had more fun on this bike,'' Thirion said of his now overcome preference for the smaller hoops. Besides, should a World Cup racer prefer fun over a win? No, of course not. ''But, finally, I am more confident with the 29er on the style of track that we have currently. I prefer to stay on the 29er.''
And with house-sized rocks and holes that could hide a house on the Fort Bill track, I don't blame him.
The new bike's longer reach means that Thirion's moved from a 50mm stem to a 35mm job.
At 174cm / 5'9'', he's on a 2019 medium-sized frame that's about on par with last year's large-sized bike now that Commencal has, thankfully, added a bunch of length to the Supreme's front-end. The back of the bike is still relatively short, though, but with 220mm of travel and a very high single-pivot layout, it grows in length as it goes into its travel.
The new, longer frame has required a move to a shorter stem, but not until some testing was done. ''I have a small stem, a 35mm, because the bike is longer than last year,'' he said of his cockpit. ''Last year, I rode with a 50mm, but with the new bike, it was too long.'' No word on exact handlebar height, but Rémi is a racer who changes it to best suit each track, which means higher for the steep stuff and lower for a course like the one he's on this weekend.
He's also a rider who enjoys working on his setup, although you might have already known that if you've seen his bike with a rat's nest of cables on it for the data acquisition system that they sometimes use. ''I like to work on the setup and the suspension. It's really interesting, and I like to feel good on my bike,'' he replied when PB photographer Ross Bell asked the Frenchman if he likes to be involved in development.
One thing that isn't as important to him his weight, he says: ''Because I ride a lot on a motorbike, it's not a problem to me if the bike is heavy. But I have a limit, you know. More than 17kg, to me, is not good. You need to have a good balance.'' Who remembers when a 17kg / 37lb downhill bike was something you'd brag about? Not anymore.
Up front, you'll find RockShox's new BoXXer fork, of course, and he's running it suitably stiff considering the blinding, committed speeds that he's hitting: "Normally, for here, 150 psi," he said. Rebound-wise, he was a bit vague on the exact number of clicks but did say that he prefers a slower, more controlled return stroke than some racers.
With 220mm of travel, a largely rearward axle path, and 29'' wheels, I bet this bike will be quick on the Fort William track.
When it comes to the eternal coil versus air question, he's not a big fan of air-sprung shocks when faced with a track this rough and fast.
"It depends on the track, but when it's rough, I prefer to stay on coil," he explained before going on to say that the 475lb spring he's using this weekend is sometimes swapped out for a 450lb coil. And as any fast guy knows, balance is everything: ''I like when you have a good balance between the front and rear of the bike.''
Magic Mary rubber front and rear, at least for now, and they're combined with CushCore inserts on Spank wheels.
If you're a World Cup racer, you know that you don't need to wait for the slop to use tires like Schwalbe's Magic Mary, which is what Rémi might
race on. "I think I'll stay with this, but maybe I will try a Hans Dampf. I want to try for one run, but the track is really dry this week,'' he said of the conditions. The search for rolling speed never ends, though, so the lighter duty tire could see action come race day.
More interesting, however, is his use of CushCore tire inserts rather than Schwalbe's - a team sponsor - two-chamber ProCore system. Word is that Schwalbe is working on a revised version, and some racers are running far less pressure in the inserts than they had been, so we'll see if anything new comes from that.
Amaury Pierron's Supreme DH
The taller Pierron is on a 2019 large-sized Supreme with an extra 5mm via an offset headset.
Amaury Pierron is also aboard the monster truck in Scotland, but the taller Pierron, who stands 180cm / 5'11'', prefers the 2019 large-sized frame with the addition of a 5mm offset headset to add even more room up front. This isn't his first time on Commencal's big 29er, either, but Amaury sounds like far less of a gear geek than most of the PB'ers out there: ''Last year, I had the 29er for the French Champs and the last round of the World Cup. I'm not the kind of person who also thinks, 'Wow, how can I have this for that or that,''' he told photographer Ross Bell.
''I have something that I think is good, so I just adapt my riding for this bike. For sure, on a certain kind of track, it's not really an effort, but for others it's cool. On the track, you have some parts that are pretty cool, and other parts are not so cool.'' So what you're saying, Amaury, is that whatever you're on at any given moment might not be the best thing ever? How refreshing to hear.
Check the angle of those brake levers. Unlike some racers, Pierron's levers aren't nearly level with the ground.
Pierron and Thirion do talk about bike setup, but with them being of different heights, weights, and riding styles, it's not necessarily a slam dunk for the other if one finds something that he likes. ''Sometimes we talk about it, but I think it's really different for each rider,'' Pierron said. ''So, if he says something is really cool, I'm interested to test it, but I'm not sure if it's good for me.''
A perfect example of this is Pierron's cockpit that's home to an 800mm wide handlebar (his teammate prefers 20mm less) and a prototype stem that's 40mm long. ''We have a 50mm and a 35mm, and I rode the 35 and it was better with 29 [inch wheels], but the 40mm is perfect,'' the French racer said of his testing before arriving in Scotland. So he's 2'' taller than Thirion, runs one size larger frame, and adds more lengths via the offset headset.
When you're on a factory World Cup team and a 35mm stem is too short but 50mm is too long, they make you a 40mm prototype.
The two racers also differ when it comes to suspension setup, with Pierron saying that he prefers an air-sprung rear shock, despite what these photos show us. How much pressure does he run? ''Each run I change. I never know.'' And that means we don't know, either, but it's that predilection to tinkering that makes air suspension a sound choice for Pierron.
He also prefers quicker rebounding suspension than Rémi: ''I don't like to pedal, and when my bike can keep some speed, and generate speed when I push, that's what I like. It's why I ride with a fast rebound.'' World Cup racers think in very different terms than the average rider does.
The team also have a neat strap-on idler pulley cover that, on top of keeping things from getting sucked into the working bits, hides how this bike's idler pulley is located lower than on the production version.
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