Words: Martin Whiteley || Photo: Sebastian Schieck
The Cairns venue holds a special place in mountain bike history. It was the first venue outside of North America and Europe that the UCI chose to host a World Cup race. That was in 1994, an XC World Cup event coupled with a National DH race. I was fortunate enough to be the CEO of Australian Cycling at the time, and Chairman of the Organizing Committee for those early races. The path to getting those events Down Under wasn’t easy. I went to Italy in 1991 to meet with the UCI Mountain Bike Commission and bid for the 1994 World Championships, knowing full well that Vail, Colorado was also bidding, and hopefully we’d be offered something else to clear the way for Vail. ‘How about 1996 World Champs, and World Cup events in 1994 and 1995 as a lead up?’ Spot on, we’ll take that.
With the visionary Glen Jacobs, something special was created in a grass field and the surrounding mountains just outside of Cairns, and there we were again, 20 years after those World Champs, in the same green field arena in Smithfield. It also reminds me that prior to Cairns 1994, the World Cup podium was only three riders, but after a young 17-year-old kid called Cadel Evans from Australia had sat in third place for most of the men’s Elite XC only to fall to fifth in the last half lap, I made a special request. I asked the UCI and title sponsor Grundig if they could make an exception to allow five riders on the podium so the Aussie fans could salute this incredible young rider. After the presentation ceremony was done, all agreed that it looked pretty awesome, and since then MTB racing recognises the five best on the day. Great for riders, teams and sponsors.
I often get asked if the sport has changed dramatically in those 20 years from the 1996 Worlds and 2016 World Cup, and of course, bike technology and media coverage have changed a lot, but the spirit of racing hasn’t changed at all. The people that raced down the Cairns track in 1996 were just as competitive and determined to win gold as they are now. The men’s race was one of the closest in World Champs history, just over one tenth of a second separated legend Nicolas Vouilloz from ‘novice’ Shaun Palmer in one the most memorable Men’s DH World Champs of the last 25 years.”
By Martin Whiteley, former responsible for UCI MTB World Cup, owner of 23 Degrees Sports Management and Team Director for the YT Mob.
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