Knocking, or rather barging through the door, Loic Bruni laid his stake in World Cup Downhill early on in his career, reaching the elite podium as a junior - far from an easy task.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2018 and Loic now sits with two senior rainbow stripes, success in a youthful career few would have any quarrels over. Loic, however, might feel a little short-changed at a solo World Cup win, and at the prospect of not having fought tooth and nail for the overall with the likes of Gwin and Minnaar. He has come close to finding that final deadly edge but for a few hurdles, crashes and close shaves the wrong side of the second. Once he finds that final piece of the jigsaw, Bruni will be an extremely dangerous prospect. 2018, off the back of the World's win in Cairns, seems as good a year as any.
We caught up with the man himself as he prepares preseason back home in the South of France:
What have you been up to so far this off-season?
After Cairns I had two weeks holiday with my girlfriend so I totally blocked everything out, I didn't have my phone on so much and it was really good. Coming back home there were a lot of things to do like photo and video shoots, and events like the Red Bull Fox Hunt, so I had a lot of short travels to go to the US so it was busy when I came back. I switched trainer again this winter, I was with John Tomac last year and it was too hard with the distance and the time difference, trying to call him in the middle of the night was a bit hard. I think I can now say I have found a really good one, a French guy so I'm super happy. I started to work with him, it's going well. I went to his place and he's been to my place. I've been focusing a little on getting to know him and we have a lot of new things at Specialized too so we are busy testing new products, it's good!
We are well into the winter, how is it looking back on Cairns now you've had time to process it?
It's been crazy. Cairns was a big thing for me. After everything I said about 29ers, the injury I had in Leogang, and missing a World Cup, it was not the best season I could have hoped for. Just being able to come back a little after each round and build up my confidence, it was just like 2016, it was hard to leave a scenario where I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I just tried to focus on building my confidence. Going to Cairns it was a big goal for me because in 2016 I won the race, I knew I could do well even when I was lacking confidence. I went there with a little bit of hope and a lot of work to make it happen, after that we realized we have a lot of potential for next year and we are able to do well. Now I feel like it was a big accomplishment and I am so proud of it... It's something that is mine now and I will never let it go. It helps me so much to focus on the new season. Not only Cairns but the whole season, Cairns was a proof of my ability, but the whole season was a lesson. I like to talk s*** but I talked too much s*** and I got a little bit unfocused and I was distracted by things some people were saying.
I realised after Cairns I needed to focus on myself and the team and not really listen to some people. Cairns was insane and now I feel like we can actually do really well in the overall of the World Cup again as it's been my goal for the last two years and I haven't been able to do it. I'm really hungry for the season and it helps me to do all my training and everything I need to. It's hard sometimes, you go through bits that make you unsure about everything. The hype has died down definitely and when I look at the run I'm so happy and everything comes back, it's positive for my career. It's a positive thing and I'll use that when it's hard. Now I feel like it's time to work on the new season.
How do your two World Champ victories compare? Do you take more satisfaction from one of them?
The first one felt amazing, especially after a season where I was second a lot of times. Cairns felt just as good as it was a little bit of a surprise, there were a lot of fast riders with good reasons to win. I was just as happy, it was a crazy day, it was something we didn't steal. I think we were underdogs but I had every reason to think I could win too, I won the year before and the end of my World Cup season was pretty good, I was happy to finish on a really high note.
In terms of tracks, Andorra and Cairns are polar opposites, do you take much from being able to win on such different tracks as proof of your depth and roundness as a rider?
I didn't need to win Cairns to feel like I could be good on any kind of track. When you are young most of the time you are good on technical trails and then as you get older your training gets stronger so you become more complete, I feel like I’ve been closer to complete the last few years. Cairns is actually a track where I wouldn’t think I could win, I was so happy to do it twice. It is just good when you feel like you can, it’s not your type of woman or whatever… But you can work it and make it happen. It was a good accomplishment and good prove to all the naysayers wrong, maybe I shouldn’t read the comments on Pinkbike or whatever… Sometimes I end up on it or Finn reads them to me and I’m like "f*** I don’t like people!" So I was like to all the people and beyond "boom! in your face, I won the race, I’m back, you didn’t expect that and I won it on 27.5." So it was a lot of things I was happy about accomplishing, it felt as good as the first world champs.
Talking of tracks, what do you make of the current crop of race tracks on the World Cup? Would you like to see more ‘old school’ stuff along the lines of the French National Champs track last year in Les Carroz?
Of course. You know my answer. I would like to get back on the old school tracks, with a lot of off-cambers… Just trails that don’t necessitate 29ers. An old-school track with lots of turns everywhere but that’s not where the sport is going and I can’t really fight for it. I think we need to say when we are at the race and the track is not super technical or fun to ride, we can try and ask them to change it for next year so then maybe the organizer and the UCI will listen. Of course tracks like Cairns, Leogang, and Lenzerheide are a little bit bike park and not super… There is so much potential on the hill, especially in Lenzerheide that you would think it would be sick but every year you get there and it’s the same bike park trail with the super dirty rocks everywhere and it’s not so fun to ride, to me anyway. When you go to races you don’t go to have fun and ride, you go there to ride your bike fast. But it is so much better when you get to Andorra and you actually ride the track and have such a good time, the track is downhill. It is steep and has a lot of technical features, sick berms, jumps… I miss this kind of track. Now Croatia took over from Lourdes, I don’t know how Croatia is… But in the head cam I watched it looks poor. It doesn’t look like how a World Cup track should look, it looks super flat, a bit tight in parts but s*** turns. I would love the organizers to do a little more like the Andorra / Val di Sole kind of tracks.
We also need to understand that Red Bull TV and video are influencing how easy it is to film and stuff like that which makes it hard to balance. We have a pretty good circuit, it’s good to have seven races, the cross country only has six. If we could add some more stops with some ski resorts and sick tracks it would be cool and that’s why Crankworx and IXS are doing so well. Because they actually go to good trails and they have good events with media coverage, we don’t only have World Cups. If I want to go and ride for fun I don’t go to the races, I go wherever I want, to the trail I want. It’s subjective to everyone. On the races you go to, of course you have fun because you can go so fast that it feels so good. Especially on your race run when you hit everything the fastest you can, but it’s not the same kind of fun that you have when you go for a ride with your friends. It is okay to have some World Cups that are not super-super fun, it takes us out of our comfort zone with it being hard to go fast. It’s hard for everyone.
What do you make of the health of the sport and the direction it’s heading in?
I’m not in the industry like someone as the boss of a company or whatever, I think it’s pretty healthy, also thanks to stuff like e-bikes the industry of mountain biking is pretty good, I think there’s money around, and as a rider compared to BMX guys or other sports the top riders have the chance to win some money. I think we need to be careful with some things that are happening but I’m pretty happy with the sport right now, I think it’s getting wider and wider in the audience at the World Cups. But I think they still need to keep it real with some good events like the Red Bull Fox Hunt, I think it’s good to not only do World Cups - it’s better to do a little of Crankworx and mix of everything. Right now it’s going well with Crankworx, I think there are four rounds, the World Cup is seven, so it’s a good season. Everyone can express themselves on something. You can have a different kind of weekend. When you go to the World Cups now I would say pretty serious, then when you go to Cranworx it’s just about fun, you race fast at the end of the day but you have way more fun all week.
If you could make any changes to the sport what would they be?
I would add three rounds of World Cups to take it up to ten. Change a little the format, maybe having a joker on your worst performance. Have maybe a crazy event with a mass start or something pretty insane just to make one round pretty epic. I think it’s good the rule they made with 60 riders, most of the people who go to ride mountain bikes buy enduro bikes, so the people who do downhill is a little category so it’s good that the sport is getting a little elitist. There are some rules that don’t make sense, and there are some rules that would make sense to bring in. I don’t know everything right now but for example with 29ers, I think it should be the last size we go to. In moto there is a wheel size and it’s over, you don’t move on every year. There should be a regulation for this. When the skin suits got banned I think that was pretty cool but now everyone is wearing skinny pants and jerseys now… We should not race the same track two years in a row. For example, if we go back to Lourdes perhaps we should have a rule like making 50% of the track new every year, so changing a little bit every year – that would be good.
What wheel size would you want to race on if there was a regulation brought in?
650B. For sure. Even today we tried 29” wheels and 650B. Of course, it’s still a bike, it’s the same concept but when you go back to 27.5" everything just feels fun and playful, if you asked me to pick my favourite, I would definitely say 650B.
Have you been testing a lot this off-season?
Yeah, especially recently we have been trying a lot of different things. We got some new stuff so it has been pretty intense at the moment, it’s good though because if you don’t do it now it’s going to be too late.
Will you race 29” wheels this season?
Yeah… Maybe. I don’t know yet, we won’t close the door of course. We have seen some really good things on other bikes and other people riding these wheels but we are not sure yet. It also depends on the rider and I think even on the size I’m a little in the middle.
Taking it back to the start of last year, there were a lot of changes in the team. Miranda joining, Loris leaving, Finn moving up to elites… How does that affect your preparation as a racer?
Preparation-wise, it doesn’t affect you so much as you train a lot alone I would say, well I do a lot alone. At the gym, I’m alone a lot of the time, on the road bike it’s the same. Especially when Loris was here we both had school so it was hard to combine timetables. When he left I was super sad, when Blenki left he was like a brother, Loris, he is like a brother… They both left the team within a few years so I was a bit sad almost like a break-up I would say. The atmosphere in the team, Finn is getting good, Laurent is doing a really good job with Miranda - the group is really strong I would say.
I am not as close with Finn that I was with Loris or Blenki but we are really good mates, he is really competitive so is pushing me a lot and we are mechanically helping each other with a good dynamic. I love the group at the moment. The mechanics are super good, focused and fun, the riders are the same. We don’t share so much in the off-season as they are in Canada but we talk sometimes by text or whatever. It’s sad not to ride with them. It’s important, since I was young I’ve been in a good group and in a place I feel at home. At the beginning there was Blenki and Cam Cole, people I was getting along with super well and it’s really important as you are travelling and spending most of your time with them. Good energy and a good mood the whole time it can only be positive, if it’s not the case then it can only be s***.
How strange is it seeing Loris on a different team?
I got used to it but it’s weird because we use to receive bikes at the same time, do a lot of things together and now he does his own stuff. I was a little bit of a big brother so I was asking to get him parts or whatever… Now he does it by himself! It’s normal I don’t know everything he does but it feels weird. I think the Syndicate has a really good team now, it was a pretty hard space they took after Josh and Steve. He feels good in the team, they all have different personalities. I think he is happy there and he is fast so it works for him. I’m just sad sometimes we don’t spend enough time together, of course, we are best friends but sometimes it’s weird until we stop racing. Sometimes he has been trying things and I hear it from someone else, then I’m like “why didn’t you tell me?!” and he’s like “meeeh, I forgot.” It keeps you aware of things so you work hard on your side.
It must be pretty cool when you get to stand on the podium with him?
It’s amazing. He is someone I grew up with ever since I was really young and when you stand on the podium and he’s next to you and you think about it… It’s like wow, that’s crazy. You can see all your life together and on the same track at the World Cup, you have been not even a second apart. Like what the f***. Stuff like that with Val di Sole and Amaury, it was so good and you get so many good vibes from it.
You’ve seen Finn’s progression through juniors first hand, what as he been like to work with? Does he ask you for advice?
Finn is really curious. He has a lot of questions and he has a really observant. Sometimes by just looking at stuff he is learning and I think that is why he is so good, he obviously has really good skills and asks the right questions. He has pretty good surroundings I would say. I think he has everything he needs to succeed. I don’t share everything with him, even with Jack we have a lot of things we do without saying to anyone. Maybe someone would like to know but we don’t say. He is always looking for improvement and performance, he hates losing. He is a good team-mate and is cool on the side. Because of his hatred for losing he is really good too because everything he does he is going to do it 110% so you have to do everything 110% too.
Have you learned much from him?
Yeah, he is a smart little kid and has a lot of skills I didn’t have at that age and still don’t have now. He is interesting, he has a lot of ideas. I think it’s how it works in any group, even if the guy is not as fast as you on paper yet, he still has a lot of things to teach you. It was the same with Blenki and Loris and now when you share things like this it can only be good for you and I think Finn has things that I actually get influenced by. It’s not just racing, he knows a lot of things about life. Sometimes we’ll have a discussion and he teaches me stuff that I should know because I’m older but he knows better!
How do you think he’ll fare in the jump up to elites next season?
I’m not worried at all. This year his times were top 15 regularly, top 20 always. A seventh in Andorra, even if it’s not exactly the same conditions, it still gives you an idea of what he can do. I think in his first year of Elite he can get podiums. It’s going to be hard as he has a lot of expectation on his shoulders, he’s been Finn Iles the fast junior… Even before junior people were expecting things from him. It’s going to be a good step for him if he can pass it without trouble, I think he is going to have the speed for sure. The work the team does, the suspension with Ohlins, we have the best bike, so he has the best bike and he can do well with it.
On the topic of that switch to Ohlins last winter, how big a jump was that to get dialled in coming from RockShox?
With RockShox, we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted inside the suspension so we were pretty free from everything. When we switched to Ohlins, straight away had fast feelings and really good feedback to the guys, they were super into it as they were starting out with us and gave us so much input. We ended up at the start of the season with a really good bike, we are exclusive with them so we have a lot of attention as everything they do has to come through us, everything we say will be in the evolution of the next product. The product even before we rode it was already made to go fast. Now they worked with us on the fork as they didn’t have one before us, they want to come into the market with the best product. That is the only thing they want to do. We worked a lot on that to make them stoked on the feeling, when I ride and people see the bike, it works. There is nothing else possible. We have some new stuff also and it’s going really good.
How frustrating is it when you have trained your ass off, got your head in the right place, dialled in your bike, and then weather craps out on you like in Lourdes?
This sort of weekend was hard to swallow because we were all ready, and of course I wasn't the only one who was looking for the win and had worked months for it. It’s a problem of our sport, when you asked me what I would change, actually it’s this. When you know about the forecast you should actually change the schedule of the day to make it fair for everyone, it’s fine when it’s going to rain all day but when you know from the Wednesday that it was supposed to rain at 4pm on Sunday then they should have done something. I think anyone who watched the race was disappointed and it was the s*** way to start the season and I think there are people to blame, I don’t know who, and I don’t want to blame anyone but they should work on this so it doesn’t happen again.
Leaving Lourdes what was your mindset like? The next few WCs didn’t go to plan for you either.
After Lourdes I think I was overtrained, I was a little tired from the winter. Seeing the Syndicate on 29ers, I didn’t even know they were going to ride 29ers… Loris didn’t even tell me. There was a lot of stuff and with the rain, I just needed to breathe after the race. I tried to focus on Fort William. We have one race done with no points pretty much but it’s okay, it’s part of the game. I knew I had to rest a little bit. I went to Fort William and I was fast. I don’t think I’ve ever been as fast in Fort William. I had been into the debate on 29ers too much and that'd been taking my mind away, I was making stupid mistakes on track and I crashed in my qualifying and in finals. I’ve never done well in Fort William, I should start doing well with all the experience I’ve got from it! After Lourdes it was a lot of re-focussing and it didn’t work, but after Fort William, it worked really well, except I got unlucky on the leg injury in Leogang. I had the right mindset at least I could feel it. I was back on the right page.
Fort Bill was a weird one this year with the lottery in the woods, what did you make of that section?
The woods section has always been tricky in Fort William, the whole track is hard and fast, hardpack and man-made, then you come to the woods and it’s all soft and boggy. It’s hard to do something in there consistently. Sometimes I think it’s a little political if you’re on the side of the track and see everyone, like 90% of the guys riding in front of you crashing and there is a UCI worker there… Then they end up changing it like just before finals, so you’re like "why the f*** didn't you do it straight away?" It needs to go through the managers meeting, then maybe they’ll think about it and do it in the morning… The woods section was messy and I remember the training before my finals there was a stump in my line, I kept hitting it and crashing so I changed my line. Then when I did my finals run, I crashed before anyway so it was over, but when I got there I did my other line and saw the stump was gone. I think they cut it out as in the morning everyone was hitting it and going over the bars. They didn’t say anything. The woods was a miscommunication this year, I think they won’t do it again. If you change it you need to do it earlier, you don’t wait till everyone has crashed and changed lines, then in finals, it’s gone… Fort William was a bit mad, over the whole weekend I was not smart.
In Leogang you busted yourself up pretty bad, what’s it like to deal with an injury as a pro-athlete? What’s going through your mind when you are laying in hospital?
It’s hard because it breaks the rhythm of the races and everyone doesn’t get the same break, so you lose the pace of the others. Especially when you have had a s*** start to the season and it goes even worse. You start to think about the trust the sponsors have in you, their belief, what people think of you. Mentally you have to work not to think of what other people think, you need to cure your injury first. To think about moments when you were fast and strong, to build everything again and just be back where you should be. I was not out for a long time, around three weeks, it was okay. During those weeks you have a lot of time to think about everything, you just need to have good friends around you, good doctors, good specialists, and not to lose the belief.
Was that when you switched your focus to Worlds?
After Fort William it was already difficult for the overall, then after Leogang, it was over. It was over for me but I wanted to be back and my World Cup season ended pretty well, but of course, we accepted that the overall was gone and we have the Worlds coming up. I actually started to do well in Vallnord, also in Lenzerheide, really well in nationals and MSA so I was like I need to focus on Worlds and I felt really good like I could win Worlds so I’m going to focus on it. I then started to test and train for Worlds, we didn’t really focus on Val di Sole but I still managed to do well.
You were a few seconds off the win at a couple of rounds at the end of the year, were you frustrated not to take another World Cup win?
No, of course when you are at the start line of a World Cup you are going for the win. In Val di Sole I was a second off, MSA is difficult because I was three seconds off in the rain. I didn’t feel 100% confident going into the World Cups because of my training, because of my injuries, because of everything… When I was at the start I was not as confident as I was in Australia for example, where I knew I had done everything to do well so anything can happen. It can almost only go well. At the World Cups, it’s really hard to be there every weekend. I think I had made mistakes in the last off-season and now this off-season I don't think I’m making those same mistakes at all, I think next year it’s going to be the same story at the World Cups and I’m excited to see how it goes.
You had an up and down season which ended on a high, how do you look back on the season as a whole?
I learned so much. Especially closing my mouth when it was not really useful. Focusing on what I know and what I believe in. Trusting in the people around me and trusting myself too. I think I’m not really confident in anything, if I go to talk to a girl at the bar I’m like ahhhh! Which is normal, but I’m more than scared. I think last year it was deja-vu back to 2016. In 2016, I think if I didn’t have a flat tire I could have been pretty fast, I’m not sure I would have won Worlds but I think I would have been fast too. I felt the same way I did in Cairns. It was hard not to do it so this year I was happy to finally finish well. I’ve learned so much. The problem is I learn so much every year and still do the same mistakes, so I hope I’m not going to do the same mistakes again. It was a super good year, with Loris we got closer again. With Finn we became good friends, I didn’t know Miranda before so I have some new people in my circle of friends I really like. It’s been intense and been really, really low but also pretty high. It was crazy and one of the years I would never say was bad, but it was insanely hard to follow!
Moving onto 2018, what can we expect from #SuperBruni?
I hope I will be there with the cape! You can expect the best version of me. We are working well within the team, we don’t let Specialized decide for us. We try to build something that is really sustainable and reliable. With my trainer we talk a lot, he actually understands me so much it’s crazy. I’m so happy with him, he is the same as me. We have a lot of things we already avoided in the off-season. I think I have one of the best seasons ahead of me if nothing goes wrong, it’s easy to say but I have never felt so good at this time of the year. It’s still a long way until it starts and it’s on a weird track so we’ll see how it goes. I want to win the overall, this is my goal for the year. I want to be fast on any wheel size and be happy… If people like me then follow me if people don’t like me then don’t follow me!