Most people know Loic Bruni as a purebred downhill racer. Ever since the fiery young Frenchman began blazing down World Cup DH racetracks as a junior eight years ago, his name has increasingly become synonymous with speed.
He's a fierce competitor who puts it all on the line in every race. And in just a few momentous years, Bruni has carved out a reputation as one of the world's fastest downhillers. He's one of an elite few racers who are always in contention for a World Cup victory. Along with the likes of Greg Minnaar and Aaron Gwin, any given race is his to lose.
With two UCI World Championship titles under his belt at the tender age of 23, Bruni's career is off to one of the most promising starts in the history of DH racing. And by most accounts, this phenom's potential has yet to fully blossom, leaving fans around the world wondering exactly what his future might hold.
But apart from his penchant for speed--and his outspoken, brutally honest manner--what more does the riding public know about 'SuperBruni'?
Unlike freeriders, whose careers revolve around performing for the camera, DH racers are measured by the clock. They are obsessed with only one thing: Getting down the world's most demanding courses as quickly as possible. Though this requires consummate skill, fitness and focus, showing 'style' is not a prerequisite for getting onto podiums.
With rigorous training and travel regimens, there is precious little time for video and photo shoots. When DH athletes aren't competing, they're out testing suspension setups, hammering on road bikes or doing strength-building exercises at the gym.
"We get paid to be fast," says Bruni. "We are seen as racers, so we don't have any opportunity to show anything else, or even to practice anything else."
As a result, the subtleties of their skills are largely hidden from the public eye, concealed by the inevitable constraints of fixed camera positions alongside racetracks. This is something a veteran crew of World Cup filmers and photographers, known as Steel City Media and Creative Concept, is looking to change with their forthcoming film, "Gamble."
Envisaged as a showcase of DH racers' raw talent, "Gamble" represents a rare opportunity for the world's fastest downhillers to let go of their surgical race precision and just get loose. To air out those jumps they habitually scrub. To hold massive manuals through hectic rhythm sections. And to throw huge roosts, just for the joy of it.
"These are the fastest guys in the world, and they're the best at what they do," says Joe Bowman, the nucleus of Steel City Media. "For them, racing is everything, and most of them haven't really taken the time to do film projects. We want to show people how amazing these guys' skills actually are."
The list of talent in "Gamble," scheduled to premiere on April 13 in Steel City's hometown of Sheffield, England, reads like a Who's Who of Speed. Stalwarts such as Minnaar, the winningest male DH racer of all time. Legendary personalities like Steve Peat, Josh Bryceland and Brendan Fairclough--three troupe members who have actually dedicated time to film projects in the past. Rounding out the roster are standouts like Phil Atwill, Sam Blenkinsop, Craig Evans, Connor Fearon, Finn Iles, Brook Macdonald and Mark Wallace, former teammate of the late Steve 'Chainsaw' Smith, who originally had been slated to be part of the film (and will be the subject of a special tribute segment).
"Both me and Joe have a lot of history with these racers, and we've seen amazing things from them at the races," says Aaron 'Mono' Bartlett, director of Creative Concept and a longtime Steel City co-conspirator with Bowman. "But these riders aren't really focused on looking good for the camera, so we wanted to take them away from the races and put them on custom-built tracks in different locations, so they can truly show off their skills."
One of these custom tracks, created for Bruni's segment, took the troops to the main island of Madeira, an archipelago to the southwest of Portugal. Scouted and laid out with the help of Bruni last August--just weeks before he won his second-ever World Championship in Cairns, Australia--the line features multiple jumps and rhythm sections designed to help Bruni demonstrate his fluid style.
"We had so many ideas, and it was taking more time to finish it than predicted, so we were getting a little worried," says Bruni. "But the local guys at (mountain bike tour company) Freeride Madeira had helped us scout, and they were super stoked on the whole thing. So, they ended up finishing half the track with shovels.
"In the end, it wasn't exactly like a machine-built track, but it had a really good dynamic, and I thought it was sick."
Descending on Madeira just a few weeks after Bruni won Worlds, he and the Steel City team hit the ground running, filming his entire segment in eight days.
"It was so cool to ride on a track I helped design, and I could only enjoy it," says Bruni. "With all the jumps and rhythm sections, it let me try things I wouldn't do in a race and helped show the flow of the trail.
"DH racing is just about speed, and when you're going fast in a race, you don't see anything special on the trail. But when you're going a bit slower you can just play more and have more of a ride. Hopefully I'll look way better in the video than I look in a race."
This is precisely what Steel City hopes to achieve with "Gamble." By taking these racers outside the stringent confines of race tape, where their skill is conveyed to fans in split-second increments, they're able to slow things down and capture the nuance of their technique in more atomistic detail, says Bartlett.
"In the races, we see riders for only three to five seconds at a time, and we're under a lot of pressure just to get the clips," he explains. "But to get quality clips that will really do these guys justice takes a lot more time to film."
Wrangling this cast of committed professionals--and spending a week with each of them in locations around the world--has been a herculean effort, with riders and filmers struggling to align schedules and squeeze in most of the filming during the off-season.
"It's been difficult, but our background on the racing circuit and the close relationships we've built with these riders has really helped us," says Bowman. "They trust us and know that it's going to be a collaborative effort."
In Bruni's case, such friendship and collaboration were key to his participation.
"Mono is a real friend," he says. "He was doing videos for Lapierre when I started racing, and he's seen me grow up. He's been capturing the highs, lows and injuries of my career all this time, and he knows me really well. I know he will only do things in my best interest."
Still, for Bruni, filming a complete segment for a 50-plus-minute movie was not without its frustrations.
"It was pretty hard because I was doing some things I'm not used to doing," he says. "And it was a bit frustrating because I had to keep stopping, just when I was starting to feel the flow of the track. That is something I'm definitely not used to.
"I also had to keep pushing my bike back up the hill, and after five or six days I was so fucking tired," he adds. "By the end, I had blisters on my feet and was going so slow that the locals started pushing my bike for me when we were chasing the golden light."
The experience gave Bruni a newfound respect for the work of freeriders, both in terms of filming stress and the types of maneuvers they employ.
"It's totally different from racing," he says. "We ride the same bikes, but it's two different sports. DH racers do a lot of things you can't see, like riding the bike at its limits on the speed side, not the air side.
"Freeriders are more on the style side. They do much more visual things in the air, and they film so you can see the whole thing. I look at (Brandon) Semenuk, who is the sickest rider ever, and I'm like, 'Why is he doing this?'"
Though Bruni and the other racers in "Gamble" strove to highlight their unique strengths, they also tried to remain true to their racing pedigrees.
"I stayed pretty natural," Bruni says. "I wanted to stay loyal to my racing and what I really know how to do best. I would never try to flip a jump. In the end, we are faster than the freeriders on the ground, and they are more rad than us in the air."