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Finn Iles flies to a podium in France

Canadian earns his best World Cup finish in Lourdes

Photo by: Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Finn Iles landed his best elite World Cup result ever on Sunday in Lourdes. The Canadian national champ was within a second of unseating the dominant French squad on home soil, taking second in the opening 2022 World Cup.

Camille Balanche led a very close women’s race. Photo:  Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Elite Women: Balanche starts with a win

In the elite women’s race, world champion Myriam Nicole (Commencal-Muc Off) set out to start her season with a win for the home crowd. Instead, it was Switzerland’s Camille Balanche (Dorval AM) taking the win. Balanche surprised many with her 2020 world championships win, and backed that up with consistent riding all through 2021. The Dorval rider thrived on the steep sections in Lourdes, storming to the win.

Nicole, the current world champion, looked to be on pace even after a massive crash during training Sunday morning. She was over a second ahead of Balanche at the top of the course before nearly going over the bars as she passed through the second split time. The French rider faded slightly towards the end, just falling behind Balanche at the finish line.

Elite women’s podium.  Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Tahnée Seagrave (Canyon Cllctv FMD) returned from a string of injuries with a close third, with just 0.997 seconds separating the top three women.

2021 World Cup overall winner Vali Höll (RockShox Trek) and Marine Cabirou (Scott) fill out the podium in fourth and fifth.

Finn Iles warming up in France. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Elite Men: Finn versus the French

Shaw sets the pace

Luca Shaw has a new team for 2022, joining Mark Wallace on the Canyon Cllctv, and was quick to get to work. The U.S. rider put in a massive run to set the days fastest time going into the top 10 riders.

Benoit Coulanges. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
The French wave arrives

Benoit Coulanges (Dorval AM) is the first to unseat Shaw, taking the lead at the start of a procession of top French riders. Coulanges looked smooth through the rough, beaten up corners in Lourdes, floating to a fast time at the finish line.

Finding the edge

The dry conditions were proving treacherous for the top riders. Loris Vergier (Trek Factory Racing) was flying through the top sections only to lose his back wheel through a wide corner. Vergier barely touched the ground before he was back on his feet and right back to race pace. The damage was done, though and, despite flying through the bottom half of the course to regain 12th, the Trek rider was left wondering what could have been.

Thibault Daprela (Commencal Muc-Off) was the revelation of the 2021 season. After nearly winning the World Cup overall last year, Daprela flew out of the gates into Lourdes. Always thrilling to watch, the young French rider was pulling back time on Coulange until getting offline, clipping a tree and sailing into the crowd. He appeared uninjured, climbing back up the hill to his bike and finishing his run.

Amaury Pierron looks like his 2019 self again. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Pierron’s comeback

Amaury Pierron dropped in next and quickly shifts the momentum back to France. The Commencal-Muc Off rider puts down a blistering-fast time to take the lead from Coulanges by over a second. With only two riders left at the top of the mountain, it is a massive return for the Frenchman after two years of struggling with injury.

Finn Iles floats over Lourdes’ rocks. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
Finn Iles floats through France

Iles (Specialized Gravity) has a history on this daunting French track. The Canadian national champ won twice in two appearances in Lourdes as a junior. This is his first time back as an elite.

On course, Iles looked incredibly smooth through the upper rocky sections. The ease with which he covered the course made it hard to tell just how fast he was going, as he was ahead of Pierron’s time at the second split. The next two intervals, the French rider moved ahead, but by only hundredths of a second. At the line, Iles crossed second. The only rider remaining at the top of the mountain was his teammate, Loic Bruni.

Loic Bruni couldn’t land his first French World Cup win in Lourdes. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool
It all comes down SuperBruni

If there’s one rider that could unseat Amaury Pierron, it is Loic Bruni (Specialized). Bruni starts in the green, leading early on, but is riding on the limit. Riding out one drop on his front tire shows how close he is to disaster the whole course, But SuperBruni can’t match the pace of Pierron on the lower sections of the course. Bruni, the multiple-time world champion and reigning World Cup champ takes third.

Amaury Pierron takes the first World Cup win of 2022 in front of a wild French crowd.

Finn Iles on a new high-step on the World Cup podium. Only one step left to go! Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

“It’s just insane. After two years with injury, and battling back from sickness two years ago, it was a battle all week.” Pierron screamed, struggling to be heard over a roaring French crowd in his post-race interview. “The level is so tight now. We’re all fighting for hundredths of seconds. It’s just insane to be in front of all these guys.”

Finn Iles takes second, his best elite World Cup result after two fourths. Loic Bruni is third at 1.086 seconds back. Benoit Coulanges in fourth and Luca Shaw in fifth makes for three French riders on the podium at home for the fanatical crowd in Lourdes.

Mark Wallace (Canyon Cllctv), the only other Canadian in Sunday’s final, starts his season with a 40th in France.