Todtnau Ixs Cup report.
After the completion of the World cup Finals in Norway myself, Richard and Mike began the long haul back down to continental Europe where we would say our goodbyes after a long 4 months of travelling together. Mike was headed off to Chile to do some trail building work there, Richard back home to New Zealand to continue his roofing apprentiship and I was headed back to Germany for 3 weeks of hanging out with Lena and to attend the final IXS cup round in the south German town of Todtnau but first there was still the matter of driving the 2000k back to the warmth as we were all totally over the freezing climate in Norway.
We left Hafjell feeling slightly worse for wear and it was a big drive for me at 14 hours straight to get us back to the ferry at Gedser after Richard had fallen ill as an adverse affect of too much alcohol the night before at the world cup after party. Arriving in Gedser on the brink of falling asleep on my feet I stumbled onto the boat before passing out on the floor somewhere and not awakening until Richard ran back up from the car to get me because I had slept through the arrival call and we were now about 5 minutes away from going back to Denmark. I don’t know what happened after here because I passed out once back in Gladys but I do know that waking up back at the Herold’s was a pleasant thing to do and once again we overloaded their washing machine and partook in the compulsory Monday night football match.
The following day was a sad one indeed, it meant the departure of Hippy from the travelling circus as we was off to Paris before flying down to South America to begin his trail building job there which is the same one I did in 2010. We wished him luck and sent him on his train only to find out that he had very nearly missed his plane due to a bomb scare and then his bike didn’t arrive in Santiago, fairly typical Hippy experiences but in true style he managed to sort himself out and I wish him all the best in Chile.
Richard and I meanwhile spent the next day driving further south to where my final destination lay in Munich, from here I would be hanging out with Lena for the next 3 ½ weeks while Richard continued driving down to Morzine to return Gladys and then on to Geneva to fly back to reality. While this was going on however, I and Lena jumped in the car and headed 430km south to Todtnau for my final race of the 2012 European Season.
We arrived in Todtnau the day before everything kicked off and the following morning headed over to registration which was all handled in due process and off up the hill we went for track walk. As this was Lena’s first ever Downhill race she had no idea what to expect but I think that what we found was definitely not it. The track wasn’t overly challenging with a pretty basic top section followed by a long pedal around the side of the hill before you dropped into another small technical section which lead into the guts of the track. The bottom section was by far the nicer to both look at and ride with the soil being just that perfect type of clay/loose mixture. Also, while the top section was equivalent to what you would find on most all mountain tracks the bottom section was firmly a downhill track with fast section’s being interspersed with technical bits and even the odd rock garden throw in for good measure. Apart from the big pedal the track looked fun and I was keen to get on my bike again and get some riding in!
Practice came round the first couple of runs down the track revealed that all was well and so I went about finding places to gain speed. The track however didn’t really have a lot of line choices and so it was more about just hitting the main line as fast as possible and trying to gain speed that way. By the end of practice I felt fast and confident for the following day’s seeding run.
The forecast of rain had been the talk of the first practice day and unfortunately for us it proved to be correct, from about 2 hours after practice had finished the clouds came in and things took a turn for the worse as the rain came bucketing down and the temperature dropped quite dramatically (like we were back in Norway!) and I went to sleep wondering how this was going to change things the following day, and whether the mud tires would come out to play.
After arriving at the track the following day and seeing how muddy all the riders were I was prepared for the worst however after talking to a few of my friends the conclusion seemed to be the same, the track was so wet that is was in fact grippy. This doesn’t often happen but on the odd occasion when there is the amount of rain that we had the mud doesn’t get to the gloopy stage but is rather just a very watery stage that clears well from your tires and means that you don’t have to worry about changing tires or anything. This left me a happy boy and off up the hill I went to see what it was all about.
True to what the other riders had been saying the track had indeed gotten to the “wet and grippy” stage and I was having so much fun riding in it that I probably did a couple too many run’s before my seeding run leaving me a little bit too tired but none the less excited for my run! Because Ixs races in Europe are so popular at some races you have upwards of 350 riders at each one which means that it takes a lot of time to get all the riders down the track. Generally in a seeding run the numbers count down from highest to lowest, based on your ranking before this race, as I was rocking the number 17 plate, as you can imagine this meant that I didn’t ride until late in the piece, this time at 6pm . Now I don’t quite know why we were riding so late in the day but we actually almost needed lights coming down the hill it was that dark!
My run was pretty good, having a solid pedalling section at the top followed by a good first half of the technical section before a stupid mistake made my front wheel wash out in one of the corners and down I went. Up quickly I had a decent lower section and but the mistake had cost me 20 places and I finished in 30th position in the seeding run. Now while this was only the seeding run, crashing sucks, it just does, and so that night I promised myself that no matter what happened the next day I would keep the bike upright!
Race was a sunny affair with the rain from the previous day moving north, or south, I don’t actually know where it went as my body’s compass had absolutely no idea where it was in these big mountains but it didn’t matter because all I cared about was that it was sunny and warm!
At IXS races the top 80 riders get some extra practice from the rest of the field so they don’t have to worry so much about catching up with the slower riders, this normally happens at the end of the practice session and so I arrived at 10.30am with 2 and a half hours of pro practice to go which should have been plenty of time to do 2 runs and then have a relaxing lunch before heading up to do my race run. However unfortunately for myself and a number of other pro riders a big crash just before regular practice finished was going to become a serious factor in our preparations. Normally when there is a crash you have to wait about 30 minutes or so before it all get cleared up and you are underway again, however this crash was particularly bad meaning that a helicopter had to be flown in from Switzerland which meant that things were going to take a bit longer. No worries, we’ll just wait and do a run or two at the end once everything had been sorted out, however as time dragged on we realised that the likelihood of us getting up the mountain was looking slimmer and slimmer. Come 12.30 (practice was due to be finished at 1pm) the organizers made the decision to have a talk to the UCI commissarie about extending practice so we could actually get a run in but as it turned out (after a little bit of information digging, not the “official reason”) he couldn’t extend practice because he wanted to leave early and catch an earlier flight home….
So, practice came and went without most of the top 80 riders getting a single run in, this was definitely not ideal and a number of us made our voices heard on the matter but all to no avail meaning that most of the elite field was going to race on a changing track with no prior knowledge of the track conditions, line changes, ruts that had formed, rocks that had come loose, corners that were blown out or anything making it actually quite dangerous for riders as our first run would be completely blind and at 100% effort.
Ohwell not to cry over spilt milk I set about preparing as best I could by going over the course in my head and trying to pick out certain sections that I thought could be more blown out than others or more susceptible to changes and then jumped on the slowest chairlift in the whole of Europe and headed up for my first ever blind race run.
Sitting at the top about to drop in to the track completely blind at 100% effort was a weird feeling and one that I wasn’t completely comfortable with, however keen to make the best of things I wandered down the hill just a little to get a gauge to see just how much the track had dried up in the Autumn sun. The answer was an inconclusive one, while some bits looked very dry, others still had a little bit of surface water left on them making for speed judgement quite hard because you don’t know whether the roots will grip your tires or just slide on them. I went into the start gate pretty nervous but also excited as this was a situation I had not yet experienced and was keen to make the best of things.
5 beeps later and I was off! Pedalling out of the start hut and off down the track. For some reason I’m not sure why but I have always struggled in the first 30 seconds of a race track, I don’t know why but it is my nemesis and today was unfortunately no different with two big mistakes coming in the first 250 metres, the first one having both my feet unclipping from the pedals and the second one almost having me off the bike and this put me well down at the first split in 30th position. As I carried on down I started to get into my rhythm until I was trying to hop over a root and my foot unclipped which resulted in an impromptu 1 footer leaving me all sorts of out of control coming into the next section and having to slow right down to regain composure, between all f these mistakes I would say that I lost about 6 seconds which at this level is just something that you cannot afford to do. The lower section of the course was pretty good but it was all too little too late. That said I still managed to make up 10 places from start to finish leaving me in 20th position on the day. This is a result that I really should have been pleased with but I can’t lie I was just so annoyed with myself at continuously making these stupid little mistakes (Val D’Isere and Norway were two other location that were similar situations) that I couldn’t help but once again think about what could have been.
Oh well no time for reminiscing as this was the final race of the year for a lot of the overseas pro’s there were some goodbyes to be said and emails to be exchanged to keep in contact before Lena and I headed back to Munich for 3 ½ weeks of rest and relaxing before I am due to head back to NZ to see the family and friends for a couple weeks before starting work back in Australia leading up to Christmas. Ciao!