After all the excitement of the last month or so I was feeling a bit run down and so decided to take some time off to go and see my friend Lena again, however this time instead of staying in Munich she had organized a camping trip down to Austria for 8 days before the World Championships (more on that later). So we packed up and headed off to a place called Wolfgang Am See. I should mention here that on the way to Munich I missed my train from Geneva arriving 4 hours late into Munich, again , Though at least this time I managed to get ahold of Lena so she dint have to spend 3 hours at the station, but back to the story. Wolfgangsee was an awesome campground on the edge of a beautiful lake where the water was warm enough just to laze around in without turning into a Popsicle which suited me just fine. The next few days were spent hanging out not doing much which was a nice change from the usual hectic goings on with the rest of the kiwis. It wasn’t all relaxing however as I found out about this toboggan/bobsleigh thing that you sit in and go down a metal tube on. When the only control you have is a brake, then needless to say I took it as a challenge to go the whole track without touching it. This was fun. I have no idea how fast I actually went but it was pretty dam quick, at least to the point where I really didn’t want to fall off (which did almost happen) . I do have some footage of me going down it so if I ever figure out how to upload it I will put a link up on the video page.
After 5 days of relaxing during which time both my wardrobe and wallet got probably the biggest makeover ever (one in a good way and one in a bad way), the weather packed it’s bags and headed away from Wolgangsee so we followed suit and headed towards Leogang for 3 days before the Mtb World Championships started on the 29th. A short 100km drive left us in Saalfalden, a medium sized town about 10km’s from Leogang where we spent the remaining days cruising around the lake and checking out the sights and sounds of the area (there weren’t many)before heading to Leogang where Lena dropped me off to the boys on the Tuesday afternoon and headed home to begin a biking trip to Venice.
Now while doing nothing for a while was a very nice change and something that was needed, by the time I got a chance to ride my bike again in Schladming (while the practice for worlds was on we took some time to go to the nearby town and ride the infamous Planai track) I was more than just a little bit keen to get some riding in!
After taking a brief sabbatical from the blog I am back to write about what I have been up during August, I had actually written a couple of posts prior to this one but due to complications I never got to put them up so instead here is a summary of the last 6 weeks.
30th July – 5th August, Pila.
After the excitement of the World Cup in Val D’Isere we spent the Monday riding in the nearby resort of Tignes which was special because, as a tourism initiative, the bike park day passes were free! This is a good move from Tignes as the bike park there is only a couple of years old so by doing this they will help to increase exposure for themselves and draw customers back in the future.
Post Tignes, next 3 days were spent travelling back to Morzine, re-organising and then hitting the road to Pila, Italy for the 4th round of the European IXS cup. I had heard good things about this track and arriving at the bottom of the mountain and finding that we had to drive 15km up the hill before we even got to the track we realised just how big this hill was. The track was dry and dusty on practice day and as such was running ridiculously fast. I enjoyed riding this track; it was really technical in the top tree sections and then dropped into some fast flowing berms in the bottom section. As my UCI points (my global ranking) from the national championships back in March had now come through, my ranking was now quite high and as such it meant that I started my seeding run at 5pm on the Saturday. While this gave me a lot of time to rest up before heading up the hill it was also ample time for a rainstorm to come through about 100 riders in and cause havoc with the course. Unfortunately I was right at the end and got the worst of the conditions meaning that I seeded way off the back in 40th position. Race day was initially a sunny affair with the fast drying course looking perfect for race run come race time, However in true downhill fashion, halfway through the Elite men’s race it started hammering it down . Luckily I thought that this might happen and as such I put on my mud tires for my run. My run was good but riding on a muddy track when half of the 180 strong field has gone down in the dry was never going to be ideal. I finished up in 25th which I wasn’t too disappointed with but it would have been nice to have the same conditions for the entire race to give a more representative result.
6th – 12th August, Oz En Oisans, France.
Heading back to Morzine after Pila for 2 days we indulged in some riding around the Portes Du Soleil prior to packing up Gladys once again and making the 3 hour trip to a little ski resort called Oz En Oisans, France for the 4th round of the French cup. After already having a race here cancelled earlier on in the season Richard and I headed over to check it out. We found a track that didn’t have too many line choices and apparently hadn’t really changed for about 10 years. No matter as it didn’t take long to get up to speed on the fast and rocky 4 minute long course. Practice went well with the weird French practice times suiting the Elite Men quite well with 2, 3 hour practice sessions one day and then one 5 hour session before qualifying. I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of qualifying as I was struggling to really let it go on the track.
Qualifying came and went and I finished a disappointing 40th position after a sub-par run. Determined to find some time the following day I spent a lot of practice looking for fast/smoother lines and was feeling good leading into the final run. Unlike Pila, there would be no funny surprises with the weather as the 4th day of sunshine brought temperatures into the 30’s making it stiflingly hot to ride in, let alone race. We cruised up the hill ready to do battle and after my warm up I cruised into the start hut feeling good about my run and ready to give it death. After blowing out a couple of sections at the top I composed myself and set about climbing up the rankings. At the finish I had taken 8 seconds off my qualifying time to finish in a respectable 13th Place in Elite men. While still not what I was really looking for, it was a step in the right direction and I took confidence away from this race heading into the 4th race in a month in Wirehorn, Switzerland.
13th-19th August, Wirehorn, Switzerland.
For the 4th consecutive weekend in a row, Gladys was loaded up and Morzine was left in favour of Switzerland, in the particular instance, Wirehorn was our destination for the 1st round of the Swiss IXS cup and after arriving at night and setting up camp, we found ourselves only 50 metres away from the chairlift in the morning, a nice surprise having to not ride miles to get up on the lift. The track was an interesting affair. Fast goat track up the top led you into about 150 metres of flat pedalling along a gravel road before dropping into some tight switchback’s and a creek. This then led you up and into a 400-500 metre long slightly uphill pedal. This was….interesting? I’m not quite sure what to say about this bit except that it would really sort the men from the boys and given that I am semi- fit I was up for it and couldn’t wait to smash it out. Following on from this was a short tree section before the finish arena down in the valley. Practicing this was quite hard as the weather was swelteringly hot, I think on race day it topped out at 36 or 38 degrees…it got so hot that all the Kiwis eventually took to the river to create a dam of epic proportions and laze about in there when we needed to cool down.
After two days of practice the track was running good for seeding and after putting down a solid, but not inspiring run I found myself in 6th place in Elite and looking forward to the race run the next day. After the morning’s practice I was feeling well up for the race and sitting in the start hut I couldn’t wait to get on track. My run started off the same way as it always does when I’m excited….Blow the first 2 corners out and then sort myself out and ride properly. I was riding really well through the middle section, a lot faster than practice and coming into the last chicane before the creek my mind was already on the long uphill pedal just around the corner when all of a sudden disaster struck. I still don’t know why this happened but coming into a tight right hander my rear brake all of a sudden just decided to stop working. As you can imagine this was not ideal. I somehow managed to get myself around the corner but went off through a bit of course tape as well. Carrying on I didn’t think too much of it, putting it down to a freak incident and that the brake would be fine for the next corner…..that particular assumption…..might possibly have been wrong as I found myself careering straight through the tape and back on the track with more tape wrapped around my bike than on the rest of the course combined. The tape then managed to find its way into numerous mechanical parts on my bike meaning that I had no way of pedalling, braking, changing my pedal position and even to the point where the bike didn’t really want to turn left. This left me with no choice but to walk up the pedal section and then cruise down to the finish which apparently was too hard because, as my bike was so covered in course tape, I was unable to slow down enough for the very last corner and promptly flipped over the bars in front of about 200 people…oh boy.
So Wirehorn was a right-off then, the worst part was that it wasn’t even my fault. I still haven’t been able to determine what caused my brakes to fail however they have since been bled and new pads installed and are now working better than ever!
Look out for the second part of the summary (which is written already!) and will be up soon!
After spending 2 weeks in Morzine off the bike resting my broken wrist, I was more than a little keen to get involved with some riding having watched the others go out every day riding the trails while I had to make sure I didn’t do anything extra stupid that would prolong the healing period. Luckily a quick test ride up the Pleney (the local Morzine Gondola) before leaving revealed a massive improvement in strength and mobility so things were certainly looking good for the world cup! Like usual, Gladys got loaded up and we headed back to Val D’Isere for our 3rd world cup of the season.
Arriving back in Val D’Isere we booked into a campground for the first night’s accommodation before driving over to the chairlift to go for our course walk. From all accounts it sounded like it was going to be a short, rough ride and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store! One unique thing about Val D’Isere is that you can see pretty much the entire track from the chairlift making a sport that is already spectator friendly even better for the fans because they get to see the riders for upwards of 20 seconds at a time which gives you a better perspective of the continuous effort it takes to ride at this level.
We started our track walk to find some rather interesting features, for a start, the track actually began on top of a restaurant, dropping off this we went straight into a rock, like literally having to ride up and over the top of the rock, before dropping off and into the rest of the track where a couple of jumps got you into the flow of things prior to turning across the side of the ski-slope on some very off camber ground that was sure to prove interesting to ride at pace. This was followed by a quick turn pointing you straight down the fall line of the hill and into warp speed territory where you could hardly comprehend what was going on let alone change lines or correct for an error. After this we went into the “forbidden zone”, called as such because no one except for riders and marshals were allowed in here because of the dangers of rock fall, while this may have been a valid concern, it still didn’t help to pacify the many media types who very nearly rioted come the end of practice day.
Out of the forbidden zone we went into some more off camber straights before a wall-ride and then into the roof drop, after pinning down a ski slope a quick left hander led you up into a sharp right hander before a 3 metre flat run into a big drop off from the top of a ski hut onto a fairly flat landing that I was worried about my wrist being able to hold onto given the size of the drop and the potential for a pretty large crash. This over and it was into some high speed turns that would get highly cut up by the time race would roll around causing a few top riders some costly mistakes. The final obstacle in the track was a big ski-jump style wooden booter that led you into a short pedal through the finish area before skidding to a stop before hit the billboards that were placed very close to the finish arena.
Practice day started off with a visit to the first aid tent to get my wrist all strapped up, luckily one of the guys there spoke English and thought Kiwi’s were pretty cool so I got some first class treatment and up the hill I went. I had really wanted to ride in my new clip pedals this race but due to my wrist still healing and the incredibly loose nature of the track, I didn’t want to risk re-injuring it and so decided to put my flat pedals back on for safety’s sake. First run down and loose was the first thing that came to mind, there hadn’t been rain in Val D’Isere for a week or so and the track was bone dry leaving a slippery coating of dust on top of the track mixed in with tennis-ball sized rocks providing a surface that, while fast rolling, was unpredictable and caught many a rider out as evidenced by 27 visits to the first aid tent on the first day of practice alone.
By the afternoon I had a few good lines picked out and was concentrating on riding these faster and faster but it was becoming more difficult because there were 270 people racing and on a 2 ½ minute track everybody was pumping out a lot of practice runs and so the track was getting cut up and the berms were blowing out making every run almost like going down a brand new track. Regardless of this I still felt like I was going a good speed and would be ready for qualifying the next day.
Back to see my mates at the first aid tent and off up the hill for round two, the track hadn’t really changed from the day before which was good as I was feeling comfortable on it straight away, I did 3 runs in the morning practice session before taking a break and heading back to the pits to get some lunch where I discovered that I had snapped the bottom part of my chain-guide off on my last run down the hill leaving me zooming all around the pits trying to procure a replacement part. Unable to do so I was faced with the possibility of racing without a chain-guide which would have been disastrous until Mike “The Hippy” Williamson who has been travelling with us luckily had a spare guide back in our hotel room (we had upgraded from the camp-ground by this stage). Jumping into Gladys I pinned it back to the room in the gap between practice and qualifying to try and perform emergency surgery on my bike before my qualifying run at 4.15pm. After a lot of worrying I managed to make it back to the race with plenty of time to spare and set about lunch before it was time to head up for my run.
I don’t know why this happens but it seems that every time there is a downhill race in town the rain comes out to play, this time it appeared in a big way with a pretty massive thunderstorm stopping proceedings completely for about 35 minutes halfway through the field. This was lucky for me as I was just about to jump onto the lift and had held off for just a second but ended up saving myself a very cold and wet wait at the top of the hill.
Thunderstorm over, mudguard on and off up the hill I went prepared for the worst, on the chairlift ride on the way up I tried to get a gauge of how wet the track was but the soil didn’t look any different so I just assumed it wasn’t too wet and the riders not too muddy so I set about warming up and getting ready for my run. The big delay had meant that I had a lot more time at the top than I first thought so I did have quite a long time to wait before heading off but no matter how long the wait is it always seems to go faster when you are nervous and next thing I know I’m in the start hut listening to those 5 familiar beeps.
Out of the hut and the first thing I noticed was that the track was actually in pretty awesome condition leaving a surface that was no longer dusty but not really wet either. I intended to make the most of this and tried to let off the brakes as much as possible, coming through the first split I felt really confident and was looking forward to a really solid run. However all this changed about halfway down the course where I got a little bit off line and drifted far too low on one off camber section not allowing me to make the next turn and coming to a complete stop, how I didn’t actually manage to crash I will never know but what I do know is that after this was highly pissed off at myself, I got back going again but knew that things were going to be hard from here on out and a couple more little mistakes later I crossed the line in a time of 2.44 . This time put me way off the back in 104th but this wasn’t what annoyed me the most. What really got on my nerves is that my first split time had me coming down in 64th position, remember that the top 80 qualify so 64th is an easy qually, this was so frustrating, to be that close to qualifying and then to have it taken away because of what was a rookie move sucks. The one good thing to come from this though is that I now know I have the speed that you need to qualify, I just have to keep it together for an entire run (easier said than done!) .
Despite missing out on the finals however, it didn’t mean that my weekend was over, the Val D’Isere/Tignes chairlift network is open for bikers and there are some huge descents available to downhill riders, over the next two days (of sunshine I might add!) Richard, Mike, Sarah and I went out and indulged in some of the best riding I have ever done. One thing that made this riding even sweeter was that the lifts are free to Mountain bikers, as a resort that has only just opened its lifts to bikers I think they are using free lift passes as an advertising ploy to get people to come back next year to spend more money….maybe? whatever the reason though I didn’t mind as it meant that I was able to enjoy some of the fantastic trails around the area.
However just because we were riding for fun doesn’t mean it was incident free, from the lift on the way up, Richard and I saw a scree slope that looked like it would be fun to ride and decided to have a closer look. Stood at the top looking down this minefield of soccer ball sized rocks we had wondered what we had gotten ourselves into, however I wasn’t backing out and took off down the hill only just managing to stop halfway down to see Richard tumbling off his bike above me. After regrouping I pushed on and luckily made it to the bottom without incident, it is hard to explain how steep this slop was but Richard managed to fully experience it hitting a big drainage ditch halfway down and getting flung up and over the bars for the second time in as many minutes. Luckily he was fine but his bike was looking a little worse for wear with his smashed derailleur being the unlucky victim of an encounter with a rock.
Feeling lucky with myself for not crashing as well I took off down the hill and promptly came to a complete stop on my head after misjudging a turn and flipping over the handle bars and actually landing on top of my head. This hurt. However I was also mainly fine, and like Richard, my bike had borne the brunt of the impact with my seat being ripped clean off my bike. I tentatively finished riding down the hill and finished off the day by sitting in the sun feeling a little bit smashed up.
Monday was spent riding more of the fantastic trails in Tignes and Val D’Isere before packing up and heading back to Morzine for a quick respite prior to crossing the border into Italy for the 5th round of the IXS cup in Pila, Italy.