Without a doubt 2019 was best season of Loïc Bruni’s career. He won his fourth (and third consecutive) World Champion title, and won the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Cup overall for the first time in his career after a year packed full of twists and turns.
World Cup commentator Rob Warner met up with Bruni during the off-season as part of a new season of Warner’s Rob Meets… series to discuss what the future holds, the events of 2019 and to get an idea of what clicked for Bruni for him to sweep all before him in his most successful season. Watch the encounter in the player above.
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Watch their talk in the player above and read on for an in-depth interview with Bruni as he discusses the key moments of last season as well as his friendship with his main rival Frenchman Amaury Pierron.
See how Bruni’s 2019 season unfolded by watching Fast LIfe, an inside look at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup season.
Back in August 2019, mid-season, when asked to sum up the situation as it stood Loïc Bruni said: “I can lose everything or have everything.” There was an intense back-to-back schedule of racing to come with the World Championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada, followed swiftly by the final round of the World Cup series in the United States at Snowshoe. Bruni was close enough to taste victory in both titles, but with competitors hot on his heels.
The stakes for this North American fortnight were high, the atmosphere intense, but Bruni was able to manage the pressure in perfect style.
A season to be proud of
“If I had been told in advance that I was going to win? I might not have believed it!” Bruni admits. “Everything went better than expected. Between the World Championship, which was a nice surprise, and the World Cup general classification, which was easy to lose, I am really satisfied and proud of this season!”
With so much at stake, managing the stress and keeping a level head was critical to good performance, but Bruni was in a good space physically and mentally.
“I was a little tired because it was the end of the season, but I had no injuries and felt I could respond to any challenges. At the World Championships, I knew I could achieve something, but only one place counts in this race and first place is not easy to manage. I asked the team to focus only on the Worlds, and not talk to me about the World Cup finale the following week which they did.
“At the start gate, I said to myself ‘Go for it! If you want to win this Championship you’ll have to push hard!’ And everything went smoothly all the way to the bottom of the hill. I’m happy with the result because even if it wasn’t easy, I had a good run.”
Being the World Champion again is still special
What does it feel like to end the season wearing the rainbow jersey for the third consecutive year? “I’m sure I’ll start getting used to it!” Bruni jokes.
“I know its value, so I fully appreciate it. Nicolas Vouilloz wrote to me saying that I’m on the right track,” Bruni says. Vouilloz, a fellow Frenchman, completely dominated downhill who in the nineties and early noughties with a whopping 10 World Championships to his name. Bruni currently has five, including his win in the juniors category, but is quick to say that his dream is not chasing Vouilloz’s record.
“It’s a cool idea but chasing his number of wins is not really something that will keep me going.”
Doing the double
What, then, drives the French rider onwards? “Lots of things on the bike, and around riding, but it’s true that even if I achieved one of my biggest goals, I want above all to continue riding with passion, and to be a contender in future seasons like I was in 2019.”
And what a contender. Everything came down to the line at the World Cup season finisher in Snowshoe, USA. It was Bruni’s chance to do the double and take the World Cup champion title in addition to the World Champion title, and there’s rarely been a race so rich in suspense.
As a reminder, Bruni’s follow countryman Amaury Pierron had also had a blinder of a season, and still had a chance to win the World Cup overall. If Pierron got the fastest time at Snowshoe, Bruni had to finish in the top three to keep his overall lead and take the series. If Pierron finished second, Bruni had to finish in the top five, and so on.
When Bruni started his run he knew Pierron had the fastest time and was sitting top of the racing standings in first. The pressure on him must have been unmanageable. When he crossed the finish line, his time placed him into third position. The scenario at that moment has Bruni in pole position to win the overall.
But Bruni’s World Cup title wasn’t yet secured because there was one more rider yet to come down the hill, and this rider could still end Bruni’s dream. That rider was Danny Hart, and if he placed between Bruni and Pierron, it would mean the end of the dream.
Watching Hart’s run
“I don’t think I ever wanted Danny to win a World Cup,” says Bruni with a laugh. “In fact, I don’t think you can imagine a more stressful scenario. My run was fine, but I was imagining that Danny was going to come between us and I would have been so disappointed; I saw it clear as day. But I didn’t want to stop believing in the dream, and when I saw Danny down coming like a cannonball, I couldn’t take it anymore! So I decided to go see Amaury.”
“We were both in the finish area, we exchanged a few words. In that moment, there are too many emotions and you are powerless over what’s happening. It’s crazy; we both did our best, so we could only wait for the end of his run.
“Then Danny crosses the finish line and I see that it’s green! It was obviously hard for Amaury but it was so good for me!”
That win for Hart was also a win for Bruni; it meant he’d clinched enough points and, crucially, enough of a points lead over Pierron to clinch overall victory.
Pierron may be a rival but his also a good friend
While Pierron and Bruni may be rivals in a race setting, away from racing they’re firm friends. Together they gave us one of the most thrilling race seasons in downhill mountain biking.
“We are great friends,” says Bruni, while also admitting that it’s not always been easy to over the years with the challenges and pressures of competing with each other.
“Once the pressure eased, all that is left is friendship,” says Bruni. “I honestly hope that people enjoyed it all and followed the racing. I think in terms of sport, you couldn’t ask for anything better. I watched the replay on Red Bull TV the same evening with all the comments from Rob Warner, and whenever I need a rush of adrenaline, I play it again!”
With only a few hundredths of a second between him and Pierron, it was the closeness of the racing that made Bruni savour the victory even more, though like a true champion he remains modest about it. “I like having Amaury as a rival. It is a healthy relationship and good for both of us. It makes us more mature, stronger. Neither can say that one was stronger without the other.”
He’s right. But as in any story, you need a winner and a loser. Bruni triumphed this time, but no one knows what these two exceptional riders have in store in the future. All we know is that we will be in the front row to attend the sequel!