By Michael Henderson
Those of you unfamiliar with the world of downhill mountain biking may not know that riders come in teams. As in Formula 1, places in teams are hotly contested, with riders, mechanics and technicians becoming one tightly knit family as the season progresses.
French rider Loris Vergier knows all about the power of the team. He’s been racing bikes since the age of 10 and cut his teeth alongside best friend and ultimate rival Loic Bruni for most of his early career. The powers that be at Santa Cruz call Loris ‘the next generation of downhill talent’, which probably explains the thought process behind his place on the widely esteemed Santa Cruz Syndicate team.
Summer 17 was Loris’ first as part of the Santa Cruz family. It yielded a second place finish at Crankworx in Les Gets, yet it’s rare to see a rider of this caliber compete professionally on the trails of Morzine. Until this summer that is, when Santa Cruz Bicycles sponsor the French National Downhill Championships, taking place on a newly constructed track on the Pleney between 26th and 28th July. This is the first time Morzine has hosted such a high profile DH competition in years.
“Morzine has always been Europe’s version of Whistler” Loris told Source. “I’ve been here a couple of times during my amateur career, and a few more since the team has moved here, there’s always a good atmosphere in Morzine”.
Loris came third in last year’s French Nationals, setting expectations reasonably high for this season. “French riders are becoming increasingly faster, and they’re able to compete against the fastest in the world. So the French title is a tough one! But also exciting. We are working to be up there at the top, but as I always say, the work is never done.”
It’s perhaps unsurprising that, aged just 21, Loris doesn’t bother having favourite tracks or races. “It could be weird to say, I kinda like all the tracks we race in the World Cup season, even if some are not great to race on. They all have cool features and fun parts. I’ll say Andorra is my favourite, because of the steep part at the end and the dirt!”.
In 2014 Loris won the Junior DH World Championships off the back of two Junior World Cup wins, becoming hot property as he moved into the elite riders category. How did he find the step up? “Junior years were hard; you know you can win and you have to make it happen” Loris explains to Source. “Elite was different at first; you need to pace yourself to qualify and then race as fast as possible without fear. Just ride fast and do your best, that’s what I like. Aiming for the best you can do, and not just a result. But the speed at elite level is most different!”
Loris is young enough to be humble and appreciative of his place on the Santa Cruz Syndicate, but old enough to recognise the opportunities of sharing a spot in the family with racing legends Steve Pete and Greg Minnaar. “They are both very different characters” Loris told us. “But just being on their sides is such a great opportunity to learn how to be yourself, to have fun and to win races.”
Loris also has a secret weapon when it comes to racing in Morzine. His mechanic PA Roche is a Morzine local, surely he’s been sharing some secret tips? “He has! Secret tracks, the good restaurants, and everything I need to know to do well in Morzine.”
Many see the arrival of the French Nationals as a ‘test event’ for Morzine. Les Gets was always on the map as a key downhill destination and Crankworx has served to raise the profile of the resort globally for the last three years. What would it take to get Morzine onto the World Cup circuit? Surely having the Santa Cruz European HQ based here will help? “Of course! Morzine would make for the sickest World Cup track”.
I wonder how it feels when your best friend is current French Champion Loïc Bruni? Separated in age by just two years (Loris being the younger of the two), both riders were born in Cagnes-sur-Mer near Nice. Loris describes Loïc as “my best friend, my other brother and my longtime team mate.” How’s that dynamic going to work this season? “The two years age difference made things easy in the Juniors, as we were separated by different categories” Loris explains. “But in elite years, we’re not just friends but competitors! I got the chance to move to Santa Cruz, my dream team, and things didn’t change in our friendship. I’m still stoked when he’s winning, so I guess it’s a cool friendship.”
It’s early April when we meet Loris. The season hasn’t yet begun; no one knows who’s on form. “I never know what to expect after the down season. I’m still trying to progress, so we’ll see how I perform very soon!” And how does an elite rider spend the down season? “I don’t really wanna say it… but Netflix, eating, riding moto and removing stuff from cars.”