Words: Lou Mazzante
Photos: Sven Martin
Brian Lopes, who has more career World Cup victories than any other gravity racer, will slide on a full-face helmet one more time at this week’s World Championships in Canberra, Australia. Lopes retired from racing after last season, having racked up 25 career World Cup victories and four World Championship titles in dual slalom and 4X.
But when Lopes hits the dirt at the World Championships, it won’t be on the 4X course. Instead, he’ll be tackling Canberra’s DH course. It will be only the second time in a decade that Lopes has competed in a World Cup downhill race. And, not surprisingly, he actually thinks he can do well.
We caught up with Lopes right after Crankworx—where he won the Air DH, Giant Dual Slalom and the Enduro Downhill—and asked him about the World Championships, his new race bike and a potential return to the World Cup.
When did you first start thinking about competing in the DH at Worlds?
I first thought about it after I saw the video on Freecaster of Greg Minnaar’s run last year. There looked like a lot of jumping, a lot of pedaling, no tree sections, and it didn't seem too steep—basically a course I thought I could ride the new Ibis HD bike on and a course that somewhat suited my style.
What's this new Ibis HD bike? Was it developed for Worlds? Or was it already in the works?
The HD is the latest bike from Ibis. HD stands for heavy duty. That is what it is called right now, anyway, but I'm not sure exactly what the final name will be. It has 160 millimeters of travel, a slacker head angle, 12-millimeter Maxle rear axle, and is stiffer than the Mojo. Basically, if you loved the Mojo but wanted something for more aggressive riding, this is the bike. It's only about a pound heavier than a Mojo SL frame, so it's still super-light. You can build a sub-30-pound bike that you can pedal up all your local trails. This bike was already in the works when I signed with Ibis almost two years ago. It wasn’t developed for the Worlds, but when I saw the course, I asked the guys at Ibis if it would be ready by August. I thought it could be a good fit.
I heard you talked to Peaty about racing DH at the Worlds. What was his advice?
I spoke with Peaty just after the end of last season about the course and asked how he thought I could do. I respect Peaty a lot and we are great friends, so I just said, “You think I could be top 15?” and he said yes. I wasn’t looking for any B.S., and I know Peaty would tell me straight up. I know I can't be anywhere close to the top in a normal World Cup DH these days, but this isn’t a normal course. It’s a course along the lines of what I like and ride.
Will you compete in 4X, too, or just downhill?
No, I will just focus on DH. As with the last 10 years of my career, I like to focus on just one event and do the best I can at that. It’s hard these days to do well in both, plus I was just getting burnt out on 4X racing. I didn’t feel as though there was anything else for me to achieve. Most of my good friends are not racing 4X anymore, which was taking away from some of the fun, and the type of riding I love doing the most these days is more trail-oriented. Doing sprints, gate starts and hitting the squat rack is something I had done my entire life.
I felt it was time to move on, try some new types of racing and events that mountain biking has to offer. Plus, I know how important the 5- to 7-inch market is to all my sponsors. Doing events where I am riding what the majority of the public is buying is only helping my sponsors. 4X isn’t a big market, and it seems like in the last two years less people are entering World Cup 4X races.
When was the last World Cup DH race you competed in? When was the last 4X?
I hadn't done a gate start since Worlds last year until I went to a slalom race in England this year. Slaloms are obviously different, and the gate and first straight are not as important.
The last World Cup DH I did was about 4 years ago. I had my DH bike in the trailer in Europe so I decided to enter Fort William out of the blue. It's not the best course for me by any means. I was in no shape to hold on for a course like that, but I qualified and then crashed in the final. Before that, my last World Cup may have been in 1998. In 1999, I decided to focus on dual.
You're not someone who likes to lose. Do you think you can win? Or, if you don't expect to win, what are your goals?
True, I don’t like to lose, but I am also realistic. I don’t expect to go there and beat Greg, Peaty, Rennie, Fabien, etc. The talent these days is so high that I have to be realistic, but I do think I can do well or I wouldn’t go to race. If I got a top-10, I would be good with that. If I were top-5, that would be even better. But if I was on the podium, that would be a dream come true. I will be 38 on the day of the race, so that could be the best present ever.
At 38 and out of World Cup DH racing for 10 years, I don’t really have pressure to win like when I raced 4X, but I always put pressure on myself to do the best I can. I’m sure some people think I have no chance to do well and that is fine with me, but I also think there are others who think I could do really good. This is what makes it so exciting for me: the unknown.
Are we going to see BL return to downhill next year and compete against Palmer?
Every year, I do a few DH races where the courses suit me. And I am into riding a lot these days. So the fitness-based enduro-style DH races are the ones you will see me more at.
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