Norway….Who would have thought that I would be able to say that I have ridden my bike in the land of the Vikings, yet as I stood at the top of the Rollercoaster trail in the Hafjell bike park it seems as though this was going to be the case and over the following 4 ½ minutes of manicured bliss I couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky to be in such an amazing place riding my bike…..then I hit a tree.
Taking things back a notch or two, I’ll start with the trip up to the frozen north. After the world champs we went back to Thüringen, Germany for 2 days to recuperate with our friends the Herold’s and to do some much needed washing and fixing of the bikes. Once goodbyes were said we began the 2000km trip up north. Normally most people would take the long, overnight ferry from Kiel (Germany) to Oslo (Norway), but because we were on a budget we decided to only take a small ferry and drive the remaining 1800km or so. This route would take us through Finland, Denmark, Sweden and then into Norway. A big job to say the least!
It was only once we arrived in Rostock (Germany) that we realised that the faithful Tomtom GPS unit had taken us on the shortest route, which, while not quite the route we had in mind, turned out perfect as the One hour Forty five minute ferry left us in Gedser (Denmark) with a short and easy drive up and into Sweden where we camped for the night in a McDonalds car park. The following day was spent covering the remaining 900 or so Kilometres with us arriving in Hafjell at about 7pm or so and setting up camp in the parking lot for the Bike park which was amazingly camper friendly with free Toilets, Showers, Wi-Fi, Camping spots and Electricity. Definitely the best set up resort we have been to so far, good job fellas!
Getting to the resort on the Friday week before the race turned out to be a highly awesome idea as it meant we got to sample the other tracks in the bikepark aside from the World Cup track which were all amazingly fun to ride however with the race approaching we did do a few sneaky runs on the world cup track to better our chances. The track was an interesting one, some big jumps right out of the start gate left you with smiles for miles before dropping into the first tree section and the pinball machine began. I think when the trail builders were sorting the track out they must have been playing computer games or something because the speed that you carried into the trees was like something out of Need for Speed. Indeed as the track carried on down the high speed became a recurring feature with big berms and several jumps, all in all it seemed like a nice fun track, and then we hit the “Rock Jungle”. Now I’m not sure who came up with the term, “Rock Jungle” but it was actually quite fitting as at first glance there was seemingly no way through the endless jagged rocks and off camber roots. It took about 20 minutes of solid looking just to even find a semi-usable line through and even then it wasn’t the easiest line with numerous rocks looking to jump out and grab your front wheel/forks and send you over the bars and onto a nasty mattress. The rest of the track was more of the same, fast and open with technical sections that would prove to be the difference for many riders come race time.
We rode the park for 2 days and in that time we realised a couple of things, 1 Norwegians build awesomely sick jumps and 2; It is BLOODY cold in Norway. Sleeping across the front seats of the car in -5 degrees is not something that I would recommend! On our travels around the park we bumped into several friends of ours and one of them, Sven Martin even took some time to take a couple of pics of us that got featured on mountain bike website www.vitalmtb.com . pretty cool to get some images up in the public eye so thanks to Sven for that!
On the last day before the whole event kicked off (Tuesday) we decided to go and check out the nearby town of Lillehammer, as it turns out Lillehammer held the Winter Olympics back in ’94 and one of the coolest things about that is that they held a ski-jumping contest. On our travel’s we have seen many of these massive structures but we had never had the opportunity to get a proper look at one up close and as there was no cost to go and have a look at this one that is exactly what we did. 954 steps later and I was standing at the top of the most imposing take off I have ever seen, how these dudes go off it is ridiculous, like honestly, it is crazy. If you were to jump off one, to make any kind of downside (landing) you have to jump at least 70 meters and to make it nicely you would have to jump 90 meters, but the jumpers must go a lot further than that because the markers don’t stop reading until 150 metres, really making you wonder what happened to them to make them want to jump off these things, I was awestruck and it is something that will stay with me for a long time.
Booking into our accommodation a night early, we set about making ourselves at home. I should mention here that everything is Norway is ridiculously expensive. Like 8 Dollars New Zealand for one can of beer from the supermarket, let alone at the pub! So bacon and eggs was the main diet for the following days…It’s got protein right =P.
Registration was handled the following day with ease and it was off to walk a track that we had already ridden. This was a weird feeling but it was good as it gave us another chance to see lines whilst having an idea of the speed that you would have coming into the section. This is actually very helpful because in some sections it can be hard to tell how much speed you will have and therefore what lines you will (or wont) be able to take come race time so to have this prior knowledge was an advantage that we were keen to exploit.
Home for dinner and then off to bed ready for practice the next day. We awoke to another cloudy day and staying warm was going to be the key, with nothing really warm in my possession I put on 4 t-shirts, my race shirt and then off I went. With the practice from the previous day’s I found it was pretty easy to get up to speed quickly and set about solidifying my lines on the quickening track. I had just stopped to check the entry into one of my lines in the bottom rock garden when I made a complete Joe of myself and am still paying for it now. After finishing looking at my line I got back on my bike to keep going and clipped back into my pedals before I had enough speed, this proved to be disastrous as 3 metres later my front wheel went out from under me and, unable to unclip I fell over on my hip straight onto one of the millions of sharp rocks on the side of the track. Straight away I knew that it was sore and the next 20 minutes were spent on the side of the track in more pain than I have been in for a while! I got back up and cruised back down to the pits feeling very sorry for myself but as nothing apart from my pride was dented I headed back up the hill and continued my campaign finishing practice day feeling sore but pretty confident in the speed that I had and looking forward to qualifying the next day.
Overnight rain made the track on qualifying day mighty slippery and on went the intermediate tires. Tire choice is honestly the downhiller’s nightmare with a million different choices being available to riders. Normally with the amount of rain we had had I would put on mud tires but because the tire knobs are so tall on mud tires they tend to roll and fold and so are only good for trails where the dirt is soft and given the hardpack nature of the middle section and the amount of rocks littering the trail I decided to try intermediates because they would still have better grip than dry tires but wouldn’t be susceptible to folding in the faster berms. This was a good choice and these tires would stay on my bike for the rest of the weekend. Morning practice went well and come qualifying time I was ridiculously amped to get up and do my run. I went to the top where our travel companion/Mechanic /Player, Mike “The Hippy” Williamson (Sarah’s replacement) had his bike set up on a wind trainer for us to warm up on. This was incredibly helpful and definitely something that will be repeated in the future leaving me feeling, to be honest, perfect for my run.
Into the start hut and read…I was calm, collected and ready to get it done. Beep, Beep, Beep…and off I went. Pedal Pedal Pedal, SCRUB! Pedal Pedal Pedal, SCRUB! This was my mind on repeat for all of the first jumps, I’m not sure why but in timed runs things always seem to be going faster and I was feeling mighty fast coming into the first wood section, through and pedalling off into the second woods I was getting into the run and feeling good when all of a sudden disaster struck. I still have no idea how this happened but about 40 seconds into my run my chain just decided that it was like two identical magnetic poles and completely split apart….this was not ideal., completely messing with my game plan I was faced with a choice, play it safe and hope that I had the speed to qualify without pedalling or give it death and hope that will be enough to get me in. Based on my previous world cup experience’s and the fact that I had no idea how fast I was going I decided that I should probably give it death to up the chances of getting in. This, may have been a bad choice because unbeknownst to me I had gone through the first split in 50th place despite not having a chain for half of that. Pinning it into the rock jungle however I was feeling good and that qualifying was well within my grasp when a rouge root caught my front wheel and next thing I know I am on the ground thinking “oh dear” . Back up and on the bike I kept going, having a pretty solid lower section despite not being able to pedal to cross the line in 64th position. Now I had a very nervous wait while another 80 riders came down the hill and attempted to push me out of the top 80 and out of the race. I’m not going to lie I did hope that I would be able to hold on but unfortunately, while it did take a long time to happen, it was a bit of an eventuality as such and I finished up in 88th position, less than a second off qualifying.
This was gutting, I am still gutted about it now, and the whole year my goal was to qualify and to have it firmly within my grasp only to slip away once again was incredibly infuriating. To think that it was only because I had not one but two bits of bad luck is the most annoying aspect. Like if I had crashed but my chain hadn’t broken or if my chain had broken but I hadn’t crashed then I would have qualified, but because they BOTH happened in one run that I didn’t qualify is hard to take but hey that’s the way the cookie crumbles and I will be back next year to finish where I left off!
After the race was run and won the following day we set about getting ready for the long drive back down the continent and towards the end of our trip, luckily for me however, after Richard and Mike left I still had one more race left in Todtnau, Germany and was keen to make the most of it before things shut down for the season, look out for that report soon!