Accessibility Widget: On | Off

Photo

Pietermaritzburg has come and gone and not without its surprises. I think, in the back of our minds, we all knew Gwin had it in him, but it just seemed like Mick's time for the number 1 spot on the box. Mechanicals came into play and some riders we thought might be stronger either blew themselves out or conserved too much by race day. Onward and upward as they say and the move to Cairns may as well be a mission to Mars.

Aside from some helmet cam footage, we have no idea what to expect at the track in Northeastern Australia. It's a new venue...sort of. Cairns last hosted a World Champs downhill in 1996. The new course even retains some of the original features like the 270-degree corkscrew turn, but it has been transformed into a modern DH course. According to the helmet cam with Mick Hannah, the course (in the dry) runs in the low-to-mid 3-minute range. It features 10 tight bermed-out switchbacks right at the start and serves up plenty of rooty and rocky goodness along the way. There are some extremely high-speed blasting sections that send riders in the 70-80kph range. The fairly long, flat finish straight could make or break a quality run, especially if a rider cases that 60-foot triple jump that leads into it.

The unmentioned X-factor of Australia is the wildlife. Sven Martin indicated there may possibly be spiders, snakes, wombats and all sorts of blood-sucking parasites just off track. Any rider derailed by the thought of a spider getting in their helmet will surely struggle on the track. As for media folks looking for that unique angle in the bush? Good luck.

1. Aaron Gwin

Call us turncoats, call us sellouts, call us anything you like, just don't call us late for dinner. If Gwin seems like an easy pick after his convincing display in South Africa, look back just a couple of weeks and we had him 6th in the Power Rankings coming in. The writing was on the wall and in all likelihood still is, but we feel like we're sticking our neck out on this one. Thankfully the pressure is on Gwin, not us. It's racing and anything can happen, but if Gwin can take down local boy Mick Hannah in his backyard, Gwin may be a lock for the number 1 Power Ranking for the rest of the season. We'll let you know how it turns out.

2. Mick Hannah

Mik will be Sik of playing the eternal bridesmaid by now, and it takes a brave man to bet against an in-form local with intimate track knowledge. But never let it be said that Vital is afraid to make the tough calls. Mick has all the weapons to win here in Cairns, and if we're being honest, we can't decide which bedtime story we'd prefer come Saturday: The return of Gwin the Dominant, or The Revenge of the Sik Mik. Ultimately, we'll have to let history write itself, once again.

3. Josh Bryceland

Ratboy was nowhere to be seen in the Pietermaritzburg Power Rankings, and until the untimely mechanical he suffered in his race run, he was making the Power Rankings staff look like fools for it. Who were we to know that he may have actually spent his entire off-season in training as a closet-athlete rather than drifting cars through roundabouts? Fool us once, shame on you, fool us twice...don't think so! Ratty is obviously feeling good on the bike, and when he translates his other-worldly bike skills to speed, we know he can mix it up with the best. Two weeks ago, we would have dismissed his chances of challenging on any kind of track with a pedally bit in it, but we're not too old nor too stubborn to learn from our mistakes.

4. Troy Brosnan

We knew Troy had all the potential to make us look bad for putting him 12th in the Pietermaritzburg Power Rankings, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, he responded to the challenge thrown down by Vital's finest armchair analysts by putting together a superb run and climbing onto the podium. That leaves us in a tight spot for Cairns too; Troy is in form, and riding in his own country. What's to stop him from challenging for top box on a course that potentially suits him even better than South Africa? The 3 guys we put above him in these Power Rankings, that's what. We'll stand by our call, but not without a certain sense of dread and deja vu.

5. Greg Minnaar

Minnaar had the Power Rankings team divided coming into Pietermaritzburg, and in the end, somebody had to pull rank to put him that high on the list so soon after returning from injury. And just this once, management was right. You can play the local knowledge card all you like, but when it's all said and done, Minnaar looked fairly fresh at the end of the track and was clearly firing on all cylinders through the rough parts, so this time around, we have no qualms about placing him in the Top 5. Once again we stand divided and some rank was pulled again, but looking up the list, it would still be a tall order for the tall South African to knock those guys off their pedestal right now. Unless he's closer to 100% than he's led on...

6. Loic Bruni

We picked Bruni third and Minnaar fourth for Pietermaritzburg, and apart from swapping places for the sake of 7/10ths of a second, we were right. Bruni confirmed the trust we put in him coming into South Africa. We don't doubt his ability to rise to the top, but he's young and the self-applied pressure can add up, no matter casual one may seem on the outside. This time around, he's been bumped down a couple, but that's really only because we believe his competition has stepped it up a couple.

7. Sam Hill

Once the dust settled in South Africa, cries of "I told you so!" echoed through Vital's staff room. With all the clairvoyance that 20/20 hindsight affords, how could we not have given the Thunder from Down Under a wildcard at least? Gordo claims it's because we didn't have a good portrait for the graphics. Little did it matter that Sam gave up time with every turn of his flat pedals on the XC sections of the Pietermaritzburg course, he was looking dangerously sharp through the fun parts of the track and every bit as hungry to score important points at a venue that doesn't cater to his skills. Cairns is another kettle of fish, and were it not for some pedally bits here too, we'd have Sam even higher on this list. We'd love nothing more than to see Sam threatening the top spots once again, and although we stand by our non-podium prediction for Cairns, we'll gladly assume chump status if Sam proves us wrong. Oh, and we have a nice portrait from Sven this time, too.

8. Sam Blenkinsop

Blenki was looking awesome on his bike in South Africa, riding with all the confidence and style we know him by. Why are we dropping him by 6 spots this week then? Simply because he finished 6th in South Africa with a strong run, and for Cairns, we're calling the same result with two new riders in the list. The gloveless Kiwi could easily prove us wrong, but that can be said about most riders in the Power Rankings - something has to give, and for Cairns, it's Blenki.

9. Neko Mulally

The quiet Pennsylvanian proved us right to include him in the Power Rankings for South Africa, and he went on to show that he has Top 10 speed for 2014 too, finishing 7 spots better than our 15th place prediction for Pietermaritzburg. We're betting he'll confirm that result with another strong showing in Cairns, on a track that should play to his strengths. With his team mate Brook MacDonald off the pace, Neko will hold the ticket for Trek World Racing.

10. Gee Atherton

Gee was off the pace in South Africa, and although it's too soon to write off a rider of his talent, speed is a finicky thing. We figure if Gee wasn't pinned in Pietermaritzburg, chances are he won't be cooking in Cairns either. He'll put in a solid Top 10 performance and move on to the Northern Hemisphere. Maybe a return to more conventional geometry is in the cards too, especially with all those tight turns to contend with in Cairns.

11. Sam Dale, 12. Matt Simmonds

We wouldn't say Sam Dale came out of nowhere to take 7th in South Africa, but at the same time, his name never came up during the many heated Power Rankings discussions we held before the season opener. Results like these are one-off sometimes, but we're betting Sam will ride the momentum into Cairns and come up with another solid result for it.

Matt Simmonds looked like he was riding well in Pietermaritzburg, but being nearly 10-seconds off on a track that has suited him well in the past tells us he might not be firing on all cylinders so early in the season. New bike, new team, and new distractions perhaps. Be that as it may, we're dropping Matt by 3 spots, but we're maintaining him in the Rankings.

Photo


13. Marcelo Gutierrez, 14. Cam Cole, 15, Brook MacDonald

Marcelo finished 3 spots below his Pietermaritzburg Power Ranking, and we're dropping him by 5 spots for Cairns as extra punishment. Put it down to the newcomers in the list above him, and let's leave it to the Colombian to prove us wrong and claw his way back up the pecking order.

Cam Cole assumed his role as fastest rider on his new Commencal team in South Africa, and showed that he is fully operational after his neck injury of 2013. He'll need a little more time to get back up to the kind of speed he has shown himself capable of in the past, so we predict a solid, but not extra-ordinary, outing for the Kiwi in Oz.

Brook MacDonald is clearly not back to race pace yet, but give the Bulldog another couple of weeks and a race close to home, and he gets our last slot in the Top 15 at Cairns.

Photo


Wild Cards - Chris Kovarik, Bryn Atkinson

If you have a World Cup race in Australia, even if it's 50-years from now, Chris Kovarik must be a wildcard. That's a rule.

From a global perspective, we're in Bryn's backyard. His younger brother Rhys helped build and refine the course and Bryn had a respectable finish at Pietermaritzburg to show that he has the fitness. The comforts of home and a family connection to the track can't hurt this Aussie shredder one bit.

Photo


Women's Top 3 Vital Power Rankings for Pietermaritzburg

1. Rachel Atherton

Rachel spent most of her time in South Africa tied up to an intravenous drip battling some kind of infection. Barely able to walk around just a couple of days before the race, it's a miracle that she got on her bike, never mind finishing 2nd. She might not be fully fighting fit for Cairns, but you can bet she'll have no interest in letting Carpenter leave the Southern Hemisphere with a big points lead in the overall. It's a new track for everybody, and with a mix of tech and high speeds, Rachel has all the weapons to re-establish herself at the top.

2. Manon Carpenter

Manon showed that she has continued to progress over the off-season, riding with authority and confidence in South Africa. She is still in the early stages of her career, and there is little doubt that she will win more races - just not this one. She'll have a good run and come up ever-so-slightly short. If she proves us wrong, we'll certainly have a bigger fight for the overall on our hands than we would have predicted just a few short weeks ago.

3. Jill Kintner

Jill Kintner has ridiculous amounts of race experience from her BMX days through 4X and now downhill. She had her best World Cup downhill result at Pietermaritzburg two weeks ago and could have this puzzle figured out. Once Jill gets mental momentum, she's hard to beat. Her bike skills aren't lacking, she's had plenty of time in Australia and if ever there was a time for her to shine, Cairns would be it.

Photo


Take a ride with Mick Hannah down the Cairns World Cup downhill course

Are we crazy or are we geniuses with our Power Rankings? We want your input in the comments below.

Create New Tag
8 comments
Show More Comment(s) / Leave a Comment