A great interview that Loïc gave to Pinkbike.com
Is it a relief to win Worlds so early on in your career? Unlike guys like Steve Peat who took years and years or guys like Aaron Gwin who despite having dominant seasons are still hunting for those rainbow stripes, does it relieve a bit of pressure for the upcoming seasons?
At the moment I don’t feel any pressure from the rainbow, the season is over and I have my jersey for one year so it’s amazing. I think I will still have the same envy to win a World Cup and I just hope that the title won’t change my approach of racing next year. Even if I had the chance to do it early, being World Champ is not a reaching point, I want to be the best possible for the longest time possible. This last race was amazing and if I can do it more often I’ll be the most satisfied.
Yes for me definitely the overall winner tells who’s the best rider of the year. Aaron showed everyone that 2015 was his year, he was insanely fast and consistent, so to me, he is the best. World Champs is one day, one track, and one run. So if you like the track and have a ‘suicidal’ run, you have your chance. In an overall series like the World Cup, you can’t always ride like that. That’s why becoming number two overall was already awesome for me, and I went to Andorra relaxed and with my season already filled up.
A lot of people have tapped you as the next big thing for some time now, but it wasn’t until this past season that you’ve really begun to live up to the expectations. Do you feel the pressure to perform or do you just set your own goals and block all that out?
I’ve always had expectations. After Juniors I had a sick year coming fourth overall in my first year in Elite and I’m still proud of this today. I don’t care about expectations, if people and sponsors are happy it’s cool but I hate having to prove stuff. Last year I had some good speed, but also lots of crashes and flats. This year I just found my ‘racing path’ where I could stay in control. If people expected me to win it’s cool, I’d like to win too, but don’t get disappointed if I don’t do it. I’m racing against huge champions that train more than me and are more experienced too, so it’s never easy to be on any of the top spots.
2014 was an up and down season but from the get-go in 2015 you came out guns blazing; winning Crankworx New Zealand in March, taking second at Lourdes in April and qualifying first at Fort William in May. It was as if you were a completely different racer this season. Did you change your approach in the off season? What made the difference to consistently have the speed to challenge for the win at every race?
I worked more, we had our new bike ready, and in the head I was stronger. I felt like when there were any low points I was feeling, I was able to find the way to build my confidence back up and to ride at my best. Like Fort William, the weather was awful and wet, bad for a south of France guy, but I had such good feelings on the track, just thinking about committing and enjoying it. I was surprise about how consistent I was this season and except for Windham with the flat tire, I was all year in the top ten and that’s cool. If my head stays solid I think I can keep improving for next year. Sometimes you get slow for a moment without understanding why and I hope this wont happen.
OK, let’s switch gears a bit and touch on your background a bit. What got you into downhill mountain biking? Where did it all begin?
My dad was a racer and a good one. He is a current masters World Champion, so I wanted to do the same as him! It began when I first went to ride with fast club mates and loved it, then I was watching Blenky (Sam Blenkinsop) in Juniors, Sam Hill, all the videos, and fell in love with World Cups and with the sport. And now I know from a few years experience, and I can tell you it’s a great sport with awesome guys. You have more or less passionate people involved but it stays cool and is a good way to live.
Who gave you your first break? Who spotted your talent?
My dad was the first one. He always insisted on me having sh*t bikes to learn well on and then when I turned 15 it would be time for a downhill bike. He never pushed me or assisted me too much, as he was doing his own stuff and did a good job for the whole club so this was pretty cool for me. Stefane Girard and Sunn offered me a deal with a satellite team of young guns with friends (Reno Smaniotto and Chloe Gallean) when I was 15 and that same season I got my first top ten at a French national round. Soon after Laurent Delorme (current Lapierre Gravity Republic team owner) and Cyril L’agneau came to me for the start of my Junior seasons.
Nico Vouilloz is one the most legendary riders in mountain biking. How long have you known Nico? How, if it all, has your relationship with him moulded you as a racer?
I’ve know him since I was a kid and my dad was bringing him to the races before he was on the World Cup so he is like a cousin to me. He has always been nice and kind with me; he is an awesome rider and good man. But I maybe have ridden less than ten times with him. When we meet it’s not necessarily for riding. I respect him so much but I knew I didn’t want to be the same racer as him, so serious. I still wanted to have more fun.
It’s also a little known fact that you are a full time student studying Economics. You were still writing your exams after the opening round in Lourdes, and then went straight into the classroom two days after World Champs. How do you balance the two?
I do it because it’s bringing me back to the ground and I feel ‘normal’ when I go to school. I almost have few close friends because I’m shy and I am not in the same spirit as most of the students as I don’t like playing a certain role. I speak to people that speak to me, and I observe. It’s cool and it’s enough to satisfy my social life – haha. And after racing I want to have a good job to earn good money, so I go to school to help my future. I think It’s not vital and you can succeed without, but I like the idea of doing both and this year I should have more time for bikes, so it’s perfect.
Obviously education is something you see a lot of value in, but why now? Why not just focus on racing in the here and now?
Because I have no friends at 21, if I go back at school at 40, I’m dead! Nah, seriously if I trained everyday alone I’d be sad. For school it’s now or never really and I am able to do both without too many frustrations.
At only 21 you seem quite wise beyond your years in both your approach to life and racing. You’re incredibly humble and grounded for someone so young who has had so much attention and success. Is this something that comes naturally, or do you have role models within the sport who have helped shape this side of you?
Of course when you are a kid you look up to champions as role models, and all the riders I liked weren’t big mouths or di*kheads. Even though I like Cedric a lot, I couldn’t become just like him, it’s just not my natural personality. What I really can’t bear are the people that feel like they are too cool, so I don’t want to be like them. And after all, we have no reasons to be above others. Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to work with experienced people too like Laurent and Jack (mechanic), so they bring me maturity.
When first on the scene in 2011 you barely spoke English and Blenky used to mess with you and get you to do and say funny things in front the camera. A lot of his humor and personality seems to have rubbed off on you. How much influence has he had on your career?
Definitely a lot. Blenky was a role model and he became one of my best friends. He showed me many sides of being pro and introduced me to many Kiwis and cool mates. He never changed his attitude towards me when we started to race at the same level, and now he is gone from our team and I miss him. Blenky is the best character of my career and he did so much for me, of course I took some of his personality and he has left his mark on the guy I am today.
Now it seems the roles have changed and you are the mentor to the young up and coming talent on the team, most specifically Finn Iles. What’s it like having a kid like Finn on the team, and do see a lot of you and Blenky in your relationship with Finn?
Yeah, and it feels weird sometimes to be the oldest of the team at 21. It’s different because I’m not Finn’s idol and I didn’t really like it during team camp in New Zealand being the oldest. In five years it was the first time this happened and I had liked it so much being the little brother of Sam. Then suddenly I had no more big brother and I became the one for Finn so the transition has been quite hard. But Finn is really fun and rides good so he is bringing a good spirit from Whistler into the team.
You are not only a crowd favorite, but also the riders’ favorite. It seems that each week everyone is pulling for you, and it’s as if they shared in the sadness when the bad luck hit. Why do you think your competition wants to see you succeed so much?
I won’t say that I’m anyone’s favorite, but just people and riders like me because I don’t think I give anyone reasons to hate on me. I’m simple and I like pretty much everyone so I’m glad when I see that people are good to me when I do well. But there is more to it though. I’m doing this because I have good times and I like having cool mates on races and I couldn’t be happy doing what I do if no one would appreciate me.
Similarly, you seem to share in the joy of your competitors when they succeed. Multiple times this year you crossed the line off the top time and straight away pointed to the riders on the hot seat to congratulate them. You are all there to win, but in defeat do you appreciate the efforts put in by those who beat you?
Yeah of course, I’m racing against really talented and strong riders so I’m respectful of my opponents. When I crossed the line in Fort Bill after crashing, I saw Greg in the hot-seat and then I was stoked that he was the one that time. It was the same in Lenzerheide with Greg, and Mont-Sainte-Anne with Josh. Those two are so nice and it almost feels good to be beaten by them because they deserve to experience being the best. Of course we all want to beat each other but one of the reason why I love this sport is because we are pretty much all good lads and it’s a pleasure to live in this context.
You were second to Greg in Lenzerheide when he set the record for World Cup wins, and then he was second to you at World Champs. Were those moments extra special because of this, standing next to each other on the podium?
Yeah, being elbow-to-elbow with Greg is a honor and in the history books forever I will be second on that day when he set the record. He is always insanely solid at Worlds, so I had a tough challenge in Andorra. Being able to beat Greg to become World Champion is honestly something that I will always be proud of.
The team structure at Lapierre Gravity Republic looks to be one of the best in the sport. What part has this played as you developed as a rider?
It is one of the best and it’s helped me so much when the only thing I had to do was finishing the job. Laurent, Jack, and the rest are working hard with the sponsors and every one puts a lot of effort into the group, including the riders. I care a lot about this structure, I’ve had opportunities to leave it but it feels like home right now. Of course it’s not eternal, but I want to enjoy it as long as possible. As a rider it’s really important to be supported, and when I was a kid it was my dad and family and now it’s team and the sponsors. I am someone who appreciates being ‘loved’ so it’s important.
How about Loris Vergier? I feel a lot of people either don’t know much about him or hadn’t paid much attention to him this year with all of your success. Even I’ll admit, in 2014 I couldn’t quite figure him out either, but this season he has really come into his own on and off the bike and is quite a character. He is fast, stylish, funny, and a dedicated friend to you. What’s it like having a him as a team-mate?
Yeah Loris has been doing great stuff since getting aboard with us. It’s not easy for him because a lot of people always compare us, and he is evolving just a few steps behind me. Sometimes I make things a lot easier for him because I help him from making the same mistakes, but there are also times I keep more to myself and it’s hard for him to make his own road. We’ve been friends since we were four or five, and this year was the first time we were racing the same category so things have changed a little bit which is natural. Regardless I think I am still a positive person for him and I’m still inspiring the rider and boy he is. But when he goes off to fly by himself he is going to be more happy I think, and he will likely be ready to do so soon.
Will anything change if Loris starts to beat you?
I can’t tell but I don’t think so. He is a good friend and we don’t need to speak to understand each other. But it’s an individual sport, and even if I like being helpful for him, I have some stuff I prefer to keep for myself, and so does he. He is really fast and we have quite the same life (coach, team, bike, preparation) and he sees what’s working or not on me, so he has an advantage in the time it takes to learn. It won’t be surprising when he beats me.
You hit possibly your lowest point this season in Windham when a puncture essentially ruined your hopes of winning the World Cup overall. Did it soften the blow a bit to see Loris on the podium that day, despite your own frustrations?
Yeah Windham was pretty rude for me. In 2014 I already flatted and to repeat the same disappointment and lose all chance to battle at Val di Sole for the overall wasn’t cool to live with. Then Loris goes out and does the run of the year so it was hard not being able to be 100% happy for him. My entire body had a bitter taste and I was still pretty frustrated.
You always take the highs and the lows in stride and I think that is what makes your character so likable. You’ve always said to me when things didn’t go your way that it simply wasn’t meant to be that day, and you always just bounce right back up with a super positive outlook on things. All the crashes, the broken chain, the washed out final corners, none of it seemed to get you down. In Windham though this wasn’t the case, and for the first time ever it was apparent that you were extremely frustrated. Was that the last straw so to speak? Was it just too much, and too many missed chances to not let it finally get to you?
Yeah, for the first time. My season was consistent even if I had a crashed in Fort William or broke the chainring in MSA. I was still proud of this. I felt really good in Windham, qualified second and had the best position to disturb the ‘un-disturbable’, Aaron Gwin for the overall. I felt the flat after 25-seconds and couldn’t believe it. It was going softer and softer but I still fought for the best but near the bottom it finally went totally flat. All this work and effort, the risks and sacrifices made, and at the critical moment I have a flat tire. I couldn’t believe it. This time was too much, the bad luck was too heavy, and after race was really hard. It’s not often that anything can make me like this, but the next day is a new day and it was over. The team is so cool and the only thing I could do was move forward.
You are always smiling and in a good mood. Besides a flat tire in Windham what else pisses you off?
I don’t really enjoy rain, cocky people, bad food or feeling really sore after a crash. I have pretty much everything I need to be happy so that’s what I am.
After Windham you skipped Crankworx Whistler and went back home. What did you get up to? What did you do to reset mentally and refocus after such a big let-down with two very important races coming up in Val do Sole and Andorra?
We decided at MSA that I wouldn’t be going to Whistler, I love that place but simply had better things to do. Going for another week of riding, shooting, and partying wasn’t the best option for the last races. And I realized Aaron, Greg and many others wouldn’t go there either, so that put the ball in my court. I knew season needed to finish well, and after Windham I needed to go home and see my family.
Then things turned around a bit in Val di Sole. It was another second place, but did it help your confidence going into World Champs? Did finishing second overall take some the pressure off you before World Champs?
Yeah I was stoked with Val di Sole. I had a smooth ride and really seemed to control my speed all weekend. Then Greg and Troy crashed so I came back on the second spot overall, which was a great way to end the World Cup season. Coming into Worlds it was kind of a bonus race, so not much pressure. My season was already a success through my eyes.
You and your mechanic Jack obviously enjoy a very special relationship that goes way beyond one of just mechanic and rider. What sort of work behind the scenes and what advice does he give that helps you achieve your goals?
He is a really good friend and his experience is golden. He knows me well and lets me learn by myself and teaches me when I can’t understand. He knows how to make me happy with full factory parts and he is so funny! I relax at the start only because I see his face and I know he is here. He is not afraid of working hard and wants the best. He is a quality man.
When Jack presented you with your World Champs bike after hours and hours of hand polishing it in secret, how special was that moment to you? Are gestures like that the type of thing that help lift a rider’s mentally to perform just that little bit better at an event like World Champs?
This moment was amazing. I know he always makes special bikes and this time I really thought I wouldn’t have one. So when I saw the most beautiful bike of my life, the chrome 100% helmet, the ONE Industry gear, I almost cried with joy. I was so excited about it. Jack did this beauty of a bike in secret so it seemed even more sick for me to discover it just a few hours before practice. We are so lucky! I think this helped me realize how different and cool World Champs are, and see that the sponsors and staff do their best to make us happy. So I wanted to give even more than my best. Even when no one was riding due to the rain, I went out for training and god knows how much I hate rain.
What was your approach to World Champs? Did you feel any pressure or were you just trying to have fun?
I am not like Greg, Nico, or Fabien, who have made World Champs a big focus. I focused my season on World Cups and was just enjoying World Champs. A rumor was spreading that said that I practised a lot in secret on the Vallnord track, but I had not at all. I wanted to shut the mouths of those that were saying I knew the track perfectly. So this was another motivation, but no pressure.
I know Jack gave you some good advice before the race. What did he say?
He felt that after timed practice I wasn’t really motivated as I should be, and he helped me realize that the season wasn’t finished just yet. We had a good year and he knew we were able to win in Andorra, so I just had to believe in me. And I totally organize my race day differently. More pro and efficient, the track was dryer and I felt good. He did half of the work.
What was going through your head in the start gate? And what were you thinking during your run? Did you know you were on a good one?
In the start gate I told myself “Gosh Lolo, in 30 seconds you will be on your World Champs run and the last one of the year”. So I decided to commit hard and enjoy. My run wasn’t consistent and I had really good parts and some corners totally messed up, so I kept it calm and made sure to breath a lot before the last steep part. From the steep part on I had so much fun. I was so close to the limits and it felt awesome!
You were obviously ecstatic when you crossed the line, but then had an agonizing wait for the next six minutes while Troy Brosnan and Aaron Gwin were on track. Did you think you could do it, or did all those second places fill you with doubts? Describe how it feels to wait out the last few riders from the hot-seat at World Champs? It is a feeling surely none of us know.
Yeah I was so happy to cross the line with green. I felt like I was liberated and was so stoked with my riding, and with only two to go I knew I had a medal for sure. Then I was used to finishing second – haha, so I was happy enough waiting. Troy was behind on splits and crashed so I started thinking about it but the best rider was left at the top. Gwin was slower at the first split and the crowd was becoming so crazy! But I know nothing was done yet and I was talking with my mom and sister when Aaron crashed. So it was Josh who told me and just looked me with his eyes like “What the [expletive] Bruni!” Then I just exploded I was so, so, so happy. I felt like I finally did it and the feeling was so powerful when I saw Laurent, Loris, my coach, all the riders, Blenky, my friend Reno and the fans, all coming over to the podium so stoked for me. It was unforgettable.
Not too many riders winning a race can cause so many people to shed a tear of joy. Until now have you been aware of how many people have wanted to see you succeed? Not just fans but other racers and people in the industry?
I think all my second places and my ‘bad luck’ showed people I was able to win. But I never did it until Andorra so they may have felt my motivation and came along with me chasing that elusive win. I was surprised to see so many riders and people I don’t necessarily know coming to me and saying congrats from their hearts. I really appreciate these moments and realize how cool this day was. It brought so much emotion to me to see people’s reactions.
Sven Martin has asked you this before, but I wanted to ask it again since I think it sums up who you are well. There are winners and there are champions, though similar, they are not nearly the same thing. We all know which one you are, but in your own words, what makes someone a champion?
For me a champion is someone who is talented, but works hard to develop it and improve his weaknesses. A guy who is both humble and has courtesy with the people around him with a simple vision of life; to be honest and with a good spirit and able to lift themselves to a higher level than the others when it counts. That’s the person I’m trying to be. It’s been a long time since I started trying to win a big race, and until now I could never could succeed. I have been patient and never stopped trying my hardest. I’m really proud of the road we did with the team to arrive at this moment. A champion doesn’t build himself, his team and the close people around him help him or he fails.
The rider who will win Junior Worlds in 2023 is only 10 years old right now. How does it feels to know that you are likely that kid’s biggest role model right now?
I don’t know, sounds weird to me but I am honored if kids want to become like me or stuff like that. I think we all need role models in life and if I can help youngsters to find motivation and get inspired it’s something can always be proud of. Thanks kids!
You are World Champion, and will wear the most coveted jersey in cycling for an entire year. What extra responsibility comes with that privilege?
I will just try to be deserving of it. Of course the next World Championships will be different and I will have more pressure on me, but I’m still looking for my first World Cup win and that’s my goal. I think next year is going to be another sick year of racing. I’m quiet excited to be honest.
Finally, who are the people responsible for Loic Bruni being World Champion?
My family that always support me.
Jack my mechanic and friend.
Laurent my team manager.
My coach Extrain.
Mono the team filmmaker.
The French staff and Manu Huber.
All my friends at home.
My dear girl.
Other riders like Josh, Steve, Greg, Wyn, Brook, Troy and Aaron. All the nice riders I didn’t mention.
SRAM and Lapierre for their big support.
One industries and 100% for the sick style, 661.
Buff, Easton, Schwalbe, SDG, David from Crankbrothers, Lizardskins.
People who come out and put the fire on the side of the track.
The Vergier family.
The Racaud family.
The Cauvin family.
The Smama family.
Guillaume Tangue the designer.
Régis from Prefal.
Les Gets Bike Park.
Martin the masseur.
Christine from Scott.
The hosts in Andorra, such a good event, Joseph and Cathy.
Billy Le Belge.
Photographers and friends like Boris, Dave, Sven, Duncan, Nathan.
Guns n Roses.
And all the people that follow me and are behind me, I’m sorry for the ones I forget.