Last updated on March 28th, 2022 at 07:25 AM
Switzerland’s Camille Balanche and France’s Amaury Pierron came out on top as the 2022 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup downhill season started in style at Lourdes in France.
Known for its unpredictable conditions, riders knew to prepare for the unexpected when they arrived in Lourdes for the first downhill race of the season.
In the elite women’s race, Germany’s Nina Hoffman laid down an early marker with a tidy run before a series of riders struggled to tame the challenging course.
Mille Johnset looked to be putting together an impressive run before crashing out before French rider Marine Cabirou delighted the noisy crowd by taking the hot seat.
Next up was Balanche who once again showed her attacking style, finding a creative line that allowed her to move into first place with an impressive time of 3:19.983s.
Britain’s Tahnée Seagrave looked to be on course for something special as she got off to a lightning-quick start. However, a couple of mistakes in the later sections saw her move into second.
Having suffered a heavy crash in the morning, Myriam Nicole wasn’t even sure she would race but showed no signs of nerves as she went all-out and moved ahead of Seagrave into second.
The final rider was reigning downhill champion Valentina Höll but the young Austrian was unable to challenge Balanche’s time and eventually had to settle for fourth place.
Balanche, 32, said: “Honestly, I didn’t feel great the whole weekend so I would have been happy with a top five. It was a really good run so I’m very happy.”
Nicole, 32, added: “This morning I had a huge crash so I really wasn’t sure I would race. This is the first time that a second place feels like gold because I really wasn’t sure I would be able to race. I’m really proud of what I did today.”
In the elite men’s race, Luca Shaw produced a super smooth run to storm into an early lead before French rider Benoit Coulanges bettered his time by a full second.
Next up was another local favourite as young Frenchman Thibaut Dapréla attacked the first section. However, a heavy crash halfway through his run ruined his chances of picking up a victory.
The noise level then went up a notch as Pierron bested the conditions and laid down a serious marker, finishing in a stunning time of 2:47.711.
Canada’s Finn Illes looked to be on the charge as he held nothing back during his run, but despite going flat out he had to settle for second, finishing 0.847s behind Pierron.
Finally, it was the turn of reigning downhill champion Loïc Bruni, who had the full support of the roaring French crowd. The 27-year-old from Nice had finished first in the qualification phase but could only move into third place.
Pierron, 26, said: “It’s just insane. The support really helped me be strong enough to do that run. I’m just over the moon.”
Illes, 22, said: “I had a huge crash in practice this morning right before my race run, so in the gate I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. But as soon as I got on the track I felt confident, so I just focused on my riding and I’m really happy with that one.”
Bruni added: “Today was the pinnacle of what I love in this sport. Pushing the limits, on a really good track with a sick crowd. It’s a good start to the season but I really wanted to win.”
Men’s Lourdes downhill result
1. Amaury Pierron FRA 2:47.711
2. Finn Illes CAN +0.847
3. Loïc Bruni FRA +1.086
4. Benoit Coulanges FRA +1.466
5. Luca Shaw USA +2.431
Women’s Lourdes downhill result
1. Camille Balanche SUI 3:19.983
2. Myriam Nicole FRA +0.624
3. Tahnee Seagrave GBR +0.997
4. Valentina Höll AUS +1.674
5. Marine Cabirou FRA +5.637